Disclaimer: This story contains very real human experiences and photos that may be too unconventional for some individuals. Read at your own risk, and remember, its okay to be open-minded. Your brain isn’t going to fall out.
On June 4th I got up in the morning and felt a tiny contraction, just a hint of tightness in my uterus. I held my belly and told myself and the baby not yet, knowing that today was expected to be 95-100 degrees. I made some bacon and eggs on the fire like usual and some coffee for Aaron while he and Julius moved the cows. After using the bathroom I knew that labor was coming very soon because I passed some mucous plug. (Gory already, I know.) If this freaks you out, stop reading now! When the boys got back, I informed them of this bathroom experience and right away, my wonderful husband began the “nesting” that women usually do prior to labor. He had already built me the birthing tank, but there were some other items that needed tending to. He and Julius picked up miscellanous things and organized tools around the clubhouse. He leveled the floor a bit and laid down a carpet remnant that gave it a more permanent and cozy feel. I went about the last simple farm chores I could do with a bulging belly like feeding the dogs, washing dishes and watering the few plants still in containers. But mostly, I tried to rest and eat lots of protein-packed nuts and fruits. My midwife explained that labor is like a marathon and lots of protein is required in order to push that baby out.
A midwife, you ask? Yes. And just where were we planning on delivering this baby? Why on the farm of course, in the pallet clubhouse! It was originally constructed as some basic walls to block the wind for our little campfire kitchen. Over the months, it has expanded, had panels added for more windbreak, and a much-needed and much-appreciated roof. Because the trailer is much too hot and the earthbag home in its infancy, the birthing stable, as my mother so aptly named it, would be a perfect place to have an at-home birth. And, if you’ve been reading previous blogs, you’ll know that my husband recycled a food-grade 275 gallon tote, or “cubie” and transformed it into a birthing tub. Imagine that! An at-home, outdoor waterbirth!
My contractions continued to be mild and about a half an hour apart all day as Aaron readied the birthing stable. I informed my midwife, Margarett Scott, THE Oklahoma midwife, that I would be needing her in the next few hours or possibly days.
What did our midwife think of our plan? She had some valid concerns: Would there be running water? shade? a place to recuperate after the birth? We talked many times about making the setting reasonable for birth, but kept in mind that babies have been born in stranger places.
We took Aaron’s dad out for birthday dinner and began timing contractions. They were closer together than I had imagined, about 10-15 minutes. I began to get a bit nervous. Could I really give birth at home without any pain medications?
Our first son’s birth was in a hospital with not 1, but 3 different medications I had read about the dangers of the epidural and wanted to birth without it, but the contractions were so painful that when they offered Nubain to “take the edge off,” I welcomed the offer. Well Nubain is an opiate, which makes many people need to defecate, the way coffee and cigarettes or a handful of prunes do. But in this hospital, as in many, a laboring mother is not permitted to leave the bed. Bed pans are so uncomfortable, especially for a round bellied, laboring mamma. It also made me nervous. To relieve those symptoms and the pain of contractions that wasn’t relieved by the Nubain, they offered Stadol, another opiate. This one made me more nervous, groggy, have a heavy or more noticeable heartbeat, and made my mouth so dry, I felt like my tongue had turned to cotton. Oh yeah, in this hospital, you can’t drink anything either. Only ice chips. So of course, after a few more contractions, an overactive bowel sensation, extreme thirst, anxiety, and a cloudy thought process, I thought there was no way I could continue without the epidural. That worked like a charm, and by charm I mean I couldn’t feel ANYTHING from my waist down. I fell sound asleep and didn’t wake up until several hours later when the nurses told me it was time to push. This was nearly impossible because I couldn’t feel where or how or even if I was pushing. Oh and a whole team of med students came in and asked if they could observe the birth and being all drugged up, I accepted. I regret that, because it made my husband uncomfortable and the room crowded. The whole thing was a bit like the Monty Python skit where it requires 15 people and a machine that goes Bing! to deliver a baby. After Julius was born, he was whisked away from me right away for cleaning, and then several more times for tests, circumcision, and pictures. I think that’s when my postpartum depression started kicking in. I needed to be bonding with him during those times. So the hospital birth was less than perfect, but we do have a healthy happy 7 year old boy and I am alive and well and making more babies!
Why didn’t I chose a home-birth then? I didn’t think it was an option. No one that I knew personally had ever told me about a midwife or a water birth or even a doula. I was simply ignorant. I had read about women birthing at this place called The Farm in Tennessee, but that seemed out of my realm I guess.
What made me choose home-birth this time? Remember that show that came on in the afternoons right before the Fresh Prince of Belaire? Ricki Lake? Well perusing through Netflix movies one time, her name caught my eye because I hadn’t seen it in a long time, but it was familiar. She had produced a documentary called The Business of Being Born. If you are planning to have children, I highly recommend it. It completely opened my eyes to yet another of America’s serious health/medical problems. Here are some alarming facts I learned from the film:
- The US has the 2nd worst newborn mortality rate in the developed world
- The US has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world
- Midwives attend over 70% of births in Europe and Japan
- In the US, they attend less than 8%
Furthermore, we all know that the medical/hospital/insurance industry in the US is really screwed up right now. There are many other documentaries that describe that. Decisions in hospitals are based on monetary reasons, and that includes childbirth. Hospitals want mothers in and out of beds quickly and this may not be in the best interest of the mothers and babies.
So, if you think you don’t have options, and that the hospital is the only place to go to give birth to your baby, think again. A quick internet search will find you the nearest midwife. Many of them these days have facebook pages so you can visit their page, find a random person that has liked or commented on their page, message them and get a genuine review of their care and treatment. You might be able to do that with a doctor in a hospital, but like my hospital birth, my OBGYN wasn’t even the doctor who delivered. Just as you consider all your options when purchasing things like toilet paper and vehicles, you should most definitely consider all your options for childbirth.
Back to my natural birth. At around midnight that night, I realized that I should probably get some rest if I was going to push this baby out any time soon. Julius decided to sleep in one of the hammocks in the birthing stable. I tried laying down in the trailer, but my sleep was very intermittent due to the increasing severity of the contractions. I was also writing down the time and length of my contractions, so that required turning on the flashlight and totally disturbing my sleep. Margarett had said to call her when the contractions were 4 minutes apart and 1 minute in length for over an hour. At this point, they were 7 minutes apart and increasing time in between. This is not progressing, I thought to myself. So I went out to the birthing stable where Aaron was getting his tiny bit of power nap while the tub finished filling. This was the point when they started getting really painful. I couldn’t just breath through them anymore. My body began to get more and more tense and just sort of fought threw them. With each contraction, I was tensing up, moaning loudly in pain, and just waiting for it to pass. I tried sitting on the exercise ball, but that seemed to push up into my pelvis too much. We tried being on all fours with Aaron pushing on my lower back and pelvis and that was mildly relieving, but I was simply fighting the contractions instead of letting them do their work. I think I said the words “I can’t do this anymore,” about 5 times. I thought about giving up, but what is giving up when you’re at home? There is no giving up. You have to continue, you have to face the fear and be strong.
Aaron looked up ways to progress labor on the internet and found something that we already knew, but had forgotten I suppose and that was to walk around. Walking and swaying the hips side to side should allow the baby to move down further with each contraction. But by this point I was looking for relief in the birthing tub. And it was very relieving. The tub itself is 3 and a half feet tall and the water inside it is 3 feet high. When I sat on the stool inside of it, I was immersed up to my breasts. I knew right away that this was not encouraging the downward movement of my uterus. Instead, it felt like my insides were being allowed to float up, which was nice, but not progressing the now 4 hours of tough contractions after being awake and active all day long. I was ready for the labor to move faster, as I had heard everyone say is common with the second baby. Darn expectations! So Aaron came to the rescue and helped me out of the tub and held my hand as we walked around the garden. The sun was starting to come up and it was the perfect temperature. He held my body so that I could squat during contractions. He also remembered a breathing technique he had learned from lifting weights. 3 quick breaths in followed by one long breath out was a great way to work with the contractions. Because of this support and breathing, I was able to stop yelling and moaning and really focus on the contractions. It was just like I had read and seen on youtube videos; once you stop fighting the contractions and start working with them, the labor progresses much faster.
Then around 7am, it was time to call.
I started feeling like being closer to the ground, so we got on the floor in the birthing stable and I used the birthing tub again, not from within the water, but from a squatting position outside the tub. The railing, 2 inch PVC, was above my head at that position and very firm and just what I needed to get me through the contractions at this point. I remember thinking something along the lines of, well, at least this railing is here. Even if we’re not going to have a water birth, I can still use this tub and its railing. And you bet, I continued to hold on through the overwhelming urge to push and through the water breaking, and through Margarett’s arrival. She quickly put a birthing stool underneath me and asked if I was pushing.
“Can you stop?”
“Okay, push and then when this one’s over, breath deeply and try to relax. Then take a deep breath and get ready for the next one.”
It was extremely intense at this point. I was so close, but wanted to give up so badly. Her words of encouragement were so helpful. She talked me through each push, while Aaron stood behind me so that I could push back. They both gave me drinks of real water. I pushed maybe 5 times and it felt as though my insides were ripping out. On that 5th push, Margarett said, “reach down and take your baby.” I think I was holding on to the railing still so tightly that it was hard to let go. She assisted in putting him up on my chest and we looked down at him and breathed and cried. Julius, who had slept through everything until Margaret arrived, was awake now and looking at the new baby. He asked, “is it a girl or a boy?” I looked down and saw that we had another boy, who then proceeded to christen me with urine. It was 10:10am and the sun was warm on my back. A slight breeze cooled my sweaty neck. One final push for the placenta, and I was done. Those last few moments were euphoric to say the least. Every color was very vibrant and every object was very detailed. I think we all felt relieved, exhausted, empowered, proud, and blissful.
My team helped lay me down with baby still on my chest, and Daddy cut the cord while Margarett gave us a tour of, and then bagged up the placenta. We did it!! We gave birth at home, outside, with no drugs, no doctor or surgeon, no IV, and no bedpan. Margarett did an excellent job while she was there, and I have no doubt she could assist a birth in an earthquake, a war, or even a hospital.
Friends and family have asked, “if you had to do it again, would you go to the hospital or stay at home?” Well, this is a bit like asking a person violently ill with hangover if they’d prefer to go to a bar or a kegger. At his 5th day of life, I am not thinking about any babies but this one. However, I’m pretty sure that I’d choose Oklahoma skies over fluorescent lights any day. And what if it’s cold out? Well, I think we’ll have our earthbag home completed by then.
Why share such personal information? It’s about hope. In a world where nearly everything is mechanized, institutionalized, and Westernized, it becomes difficult to find the real core of why we do what we do. We have forgotten so much about real human compassion. Women have been told they don’t know how to birth, that it should be left up to professionals. Who is a better professional of her own body? Yes, hospitals and surgeons should be there for the small number of complications in births. I may not be here if it weren’t for my medical doctor at birth. However, there are so many women who missed out on a great home-birth experience simply because they didn’t know it existed. Here’s to hope for fewer unnecessary Cesarean sections, and less maternal and fetal mortality. Here’s to hope for more midwives, more home-births, and more intimate family bonding! Here’s to hoping for a better world.