When Audrey was born 17 years ago, I went through the motions and delivered her vaginally at the hospital as most women are taught to do from a very early age. Interventions included pitocin, epidural, episiotomy, and vacuum extraction. With an epidural, after the intense pain of the needle, it only took on half of my body. So after being totally numb on one side and enduring continually intense contractions on the other half, I allowed the anesthesiologist to try again. Thankfully, it took completely the second time. An episiotomy, I don’t know the degree, but was grateful for the Sits-bath and my mother’s hand while passing my first post-partum BM.
In the years later, I became licensed as a massage therapist and focused on various natural health practices. For Claire’s birth, 6 years ago, I felt like I could manage the pain of contractions on my own. At the hospital, I asked nurses for a rocking chair and a ball to sit on during my labor, then I sang to myself and to Claire as a way to manage the pain, while the nurses laughed. My mother was present, but I really felt alone, as I had no advocate coaching me about how I could manage the labor. The pain intensified and I first tried pain medication through the IV, then caved and agreed to the epidural, which again, initially only took on half of my body.
After a short while of pushing, the OB on call said we’d have to prep for cesarean for failure to descend. Somehow Claire was going back in after crowning. To this day I’m still not sure as to the reason for surgery, but at the time, I was in total shock. I put myself and my daughter in God’s hands and trusted the medical staff. I hadn’t prepared myself physically or emotionally for the possibility of a c-section. I tried hard to calm myself. As they started cutting into my skin, the doctor asked me if I could feel it. I said yes, that it felt like they were pulling the hairs of my abdomen. Then my body flinched when they started to cut deeper. Thankfully I couldn’t feel intense pain, but since my body wouldn’t stay still, they had to give me general anesthesia. I actually was glad, since I knew my stress wasn’t healthy for myself or my baby. I woke up and bonded very nicely with my newborn daughter after a couple of hours. I layed in the hospital bed connected to an IV drip, initially for GBS. I’m not sure why it wasn’t removed after surgery. After five long days, I was able to convince my OB to discharge me.
I decided right away during my third pregnancy that my intention was for a home birth. Actually, a month prior to Izak’s conception, I saw a video on YouTube about Orgasmic Birth that I found quite beautiful. My attempts to maintain a friendship with Izak’s father failed as did my attempts to find the right man. So I settled for the idea of a gentle water birth.
My life was pretty chaotic during my pregnancy, not unhappy though. I moved from here to there, subletting, staying with friends for awhile, Claire’s dad, then back at my mother’s with Audrey. When I met Darlene, my midwife, we connected mysteriously as a good friend or kindred spirit. The day after meeting her, Audrey wanted to move back to Austin and I agreed to give it one more try. Disappointed by the idea of not having Darlene attend Izak’s birth. I was happy to stay connected with her via phone and internet. After interviewing 7 midwives, I finally settled on one who allowed me to pay as I could, the full amount expected before the birth.
I found a very nice place to live, renting space from a new friend in Georgetown who agreed to let me give birth in his master bathroom tub. I looked forward to a homebirth with this new midwife, her two assistants, and my two daughters present. Claire told me she wanted to help wipe the baby off, thanks Discovery Health Channel. When I asked “You sure? It might be really disgusting…”, my 6 year old said, quite matter-of-factly, “Mommy, it’s not disgusting. It’s birth. ” I asked around for opinions on this idea of Claire watching the birth and most responses were “Claire? Oh, she’ll do fine. She’s not like most 6 year old children. “
I read an article that concerned me about the potential risks of sonogram/ ultrasound technologies on a fetus, but I agreed to a 3rd one around 28 weeks gestation to check location of placenta and confirm the health of all the baby’s organs. Audrey and Claire were with me. When the tech was attempting to determine gender, we could see something that resembled swollen labia. So the tech guessed baby girl but couldn’t tell me anything for sure. I was happy with a girl or the mystery, but shook my belly to see if baby would give us a better angle. And when he did, I burst into tears of joy and disbelief. It really was my Izak that I sensed during the first few days. I started calling the baby Lucy in order not to get my hopes up! During our summertime visit, Claire’s dad made me laugh when he said “He’s gonna be mad if you keep calling him that.”
Audrey decided to move back to my mother’s in September. A short while later the squeeze of finances started to worry me. I called Darlene for advice and she agreed to accept payment after Izak’s birth, considering my circumstances, if I could make the move back to Houston. So I did. Initially imagining the birth at my sister’s house or at a hotel, but neither panned out. My mother and I agreed to rearrange her house where I could be in the master bedroom with Claire and the baby and set up a birthing tub in the corner of the room. In early November, before rearranging the house, I applied for an apartment and was accepted. (Thanks to a personal loan from a dear friend.) I moved once again and was able to prepare for a homebirth with Darlene, my midwife and now my friend.
On the morning of November 17, the exact stated due date, I was browsing gentle homebirth sites and Facebook on the internet. I read on Darlene’s facebook page that she had just delivered a baby around 11:30pm. I wasn’t restless, just not sleepy. Then at 2:30am, I started feeling very strong contractions and woke Audrey to help me time them and clean up some clutter before I called Darlene. After an hour of strong contractions, 5 minutes apart, I called Darlene. She asked that I start timing duration and to call her back when the contraction was lasting about 60 seconds. I called her back around 4:15am. I also called my mother who lived just 5 minutes from the apartment. Darlene arrived about 4:30am and determined that I was about 8 cm dilated and effaced 80 %. Contractions were actually lasting longer than a minute… I was only considering the peak. So after a complete check up, Darlene immediately started coaching me to keep my body relaxed and not strain. Low tones of “ahhh” helped me stay focused. She massaged my arm or leg softly while kneeling beside my futon bed. This worked wonders to relax me. My mom was on the other side of the bed, holding my hand. Audrey was in and out of the bedroom. Claire was still asleep. Hazy memories for the first hour, but around 6:00am, my water broke when I squatted forward at the birth stool Darlene set up between the bed and the bathroom. There was apparently some meconium in the amniotic fluid, but Izak’s vitals stayed strong every time Darlene checked. I tried to pee, but couldn’t and I had to have a quick bladder catheter to drain my very full bladder. Around 7:45, Darlene helped me into the bath to try more relaxation. She asked that I have some time alone and as she came in and shut the door to the bathroom, she gently let me know that there was not much room for Izak’s head to descend between my small bone structures. She said we may have to transport for cesarean section. I kept my mind as calm as possible, imagining St. John’s Hospital in Nassau Bay where Claire was born by c-section. I trusted that with Darlene’s strong advocacy for my natural health choices that my baby and I would be safe at the hospital. Disappointed, yes.
Darlene helped me from the tub to the birthing stool where I rested and she checked on Izak. To our surprise, his head shifted slightly. Initially, Izak was facing sideways – the largest angle of a baby’s head. Now he was facing a bit more towards the back, and his vitals were still strong, Darlene said we’d try for one more hour to see if Izak would descend. I really didn’t believe he would, but I trusted Darlene and followed her guidance. I kept my tones low through every contraction, full of pain. Darn the luck! I was mostly sitting on the birth stool, but then stood with Darlene, swaying side to side in slow gentle lunges. I remember my mother saying sweetly “That’s the way – he’ll be birthed by dancing!” Audrey was behind me most of the time, massaging my shoulders and my back. Claire was in and out of the room. I knew I was getting louder with the contractions, and once gently asked Claire to go out, fearing that she would be afraid of what she saw and heard from me. I really did not imagine the amount of pain I endured. She said “No, Mom. I’m fine, really.”
Around 8:45am, Izak’s head shifted a little more. Darlene was prepared for an episiotomy if necessary, but used a lot of olive oil while pressing her hand on the back of Izak’s head and on my body, pressing downward toward my tailbone allowing my tissues to stretch and be prepared for birth. As I pushed, his head slowly descended. At one point, she asked if I wanted to feel his head. Sitting on the birthing stool, holding onto the sides of it, I said no, pretty firmly. I was determined and focused. I remember hearing myself with many loud low tones of “ahhh” and also low tone “help me Darlene” and at least one “I can’t do this!” in low tone. To which Darlene and my mother responded, “You ARE doing it!” They all kept giving me words of encouragement as I pushed. Just before Izak’s birth, Audrey was sitting behind me, exhausted and feeling a bit nauseous, so she asked Claire to come stand behind me, to massage my neck and back.
Izak was born at home, to my utter shock and disbelief, at 8:51am. I had convinced myself it wouldn’t be happening and wondered why we were waiting for the inevitable transport for c-section. I didn’t believe my body could push out this baby. I was afraid I couldn’t hold him, but Darlene, the strong woman and mother that she is, placed him into my arms, trusting my abilities more than I did at the time. Still sitting on the birth stool, holding my crying infant, I cried in celebration and in shock. I lost a good amount of blood, but Darlene was equipped to handle it. When the placenta came out I hardly noticed. She commented about how thick and healthy the umbilical cord was and had let it pulsate while Izak was in my arms. Due to the amount of meconium present in the amniotic fluid and what Izak passed at his birthing, Darlene was prepared to deeply suction his airway. This boy of mine, caked with white vernix on his eyebrows, hollered a good deep yell, and he was able to clear his lungs on his own. I think I nursed him a little as the placenta birthed. Darlene checked on Izak as I relocated to the twin-sized futon bed. His poor head was a bit mis-shapened by the birth, but within a few hours was back to normal. I was swollen but saved by Darlene’s skill and olive oil to avoid any tearing! I was amazed! My baby boy weighed 8 lbs 5 oz, and measured 21 3/4 in. We did it! At home! No drugs! And no tearing!
My mother appreciated how Darlene was praying during Izak’s labor and birth. We all were. I knew there must have been a thousand angels present in that room… maintaining the sound barrier to the next apartment. I joked later with my sisters that I’m sure my head was spinning around like on the Exorcist. Yeah, I was pretty loud. It’s equally amazing to me how much the pain decreased immediately after Izak’s birth.
Audrey stayed home from school the day of Izak’s birth and two days following. She was so helpful with Izak while I rested and actually seemed to sooth his crying more easily than I could. She asked me if my body would return to normal and not knowing what she saw, I took a photograph of the view between my legs, which I deleted moments after seeing it. I assured my 17 year old that the severe swelling would reduce. Darlene warned me that I might continue to discharge blood clots. I had planned to keep my placenta for encapsulation, but due to the amount of meconium, Darlene advised that she wouldn’t keep it if it was her choice. So, I decided to let my mother and my daughters bury the placenta for me in her yard, by the bayou. We’ll plant a tree or something there someday soon.
I smiled when Darlene suggested that if I ever want to have another baby, I should meet with her in very early pregnancy to start those exercises and stretches I never got around to doing.
I realized with Izak’s birth, that every transition from birth to life or life to death comes with a mystery as to whether or not it will be a gentle, pain-free experience. God remains present and holds every one of us through each process. As Darlene so wisely offered, my experience may not have been the romantic water birth I imagined, but my daughters both have learned that an intense and challenging experience can be overcome with a midwife’s help. Not all home births are perfect and that’s okay. I realize that it was my most favorite experience of all – having both Audrey and Claire present, my mother, and a dear friend as a midwife, all very much designed by God, so beautiful in my memory.
–Cynthia Roberts Borelle–