I realize that homebirth and unassisted birth are not for everyone. It is never my goal, in my classes or in my life, to convince other people that “my” way is the only way. My only goal as a childbirth educator is to help women make their own informed choices about their pregnancies and births, whether that means a homebirth with a midwife, a hospital birth with an epidural, a natural hospital birth, or an unassisted birth.This Pregnancy: The First Twenty Weeks
Between Maddie’s birth and this pregnancy, I learned a lot. I’m a childbirth educator and have worked as a doula. I’ve read piles on childbirth and have gone through three different professional training workshops. I attended 2 homebirths as a doula, and 4 hospital births. By the time I got pregnant with this baby, there was no doubt I was having a homebirth. The idea of going back to the hospital to have a baby seemed too risky to me.
I hired the midwife who was present at the two homebirths I attended. She was very hands-off at those births and I was extremely impressed by her. I knew there was no other attendant I could feel at ease with. I told her that I’d be calling her late in labor, and that I’d rather her not make it on time than get there too early and risk “performance anxiety” slowing my labor. As the pregnancy went on, I realized that deep down, I didn’t expect to call her at all.
In my first 20 weeks, I had two prenatal visits. I had no blood work, no gestational diabetes test, no genetic screening, no ultrasounds, not even listening to the baby with a Doppler (which exposes the baby to ultrasound). After 20 weeks I was able to find the heartbeat myself with a fetoscope. I would not be having a group B strep test, checking my fluid levels with ultrasound, fretting about the baby’s size. I was just enjoying my pregnancy and it was truly wonderful.
Unassisted Birth: My Psychological & Emotional Journey
When I was late in my pregnancy with Maddie, around 37 weeks I believe, the midwife said that they liked to induce at 41 weeks. This was totally unacceptable to me. I don’t believe in evicting babies before they’re ready based on a date that should really be +/- at least 2 weeks. The risks associated with induction were beyond what I was willing to accept without a true medical reason. Needless to say, I started to feel a lot of stress over this impending fight, were I to go past 41 weeks (I actually went to 41 weeks, 4 days). My precious husband said, “Don’t worry about it-if they try to force an induction we’ll just stay home and do it ourselves.
And there, the idea of unassisted homebirth was born. It’s interesting to me that so many women who want homebirths-assisted or unassisted-are thwarted by scared spouses, and the whole idea of unassisted birth came through my husband. Staying home without a midwife had never even occurred to me. But suddenly it became our back up plan, and I started to think about how great an experience it would be.
In the end, the midwives didn’t pressure me into an induction and I stuck with my hospital plan. When Maddie was just a baby, I got a copy of Unassisted Childbirth by Laura Shanley from the library. It was so fascinating. Her way of giving birth felt very right (I later read The Power of Pleasurable Childbirth by Laurie Morgan, which really appealed to my practical nature).
Around 18 weeks I realized I wasn’t going to call the midwife, and knew I needed to talk to her. I gave myself a couple of weeks to think it over, then called her around 20 weeks. She was very supportive of my decision, willing to be there for me if I needed her.
I continued my pregnancy with no problems, and no stress. Once I decided officially on an unassisted birth, it’s like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I knew it was right for me. I told very few people in my real life, because I didn’t want to deal with negativity, and I also didn’t want to cause unnecessary stress for my family. Most people in our culture don’t really believe birth is safe, and I didn’t want people worrying about the baby and me. I wasn’t worried-why should they be?
The Birth of Grace Alexandra
I’d been having contractions for weeks, real ones as well as Braxton-Hicks. On the night of September 9, I tried to go to bed around 9. Contractions were 15-20 minutes apart, and I wanted to sleep between them. They were really strong, and I’d wake up right at the peak and unable to stay on top of them. Around 10:30 I tried propping myself up in bed because lying down was making them worse, but even with that the waking up at the peak was too much. Around 11:15 I went out in the living room with Chad. We put in a Friends DVD and hung out for about 45 minutes. As soon as I was in the living room, contractions jumped to 5-7 minutes apart.
Around midnight I really wanted to get in the birth pool, but was thinking it was really too early. I decided I didn’t care-the water was calling me. Chad tried to convince me just to take a bath in the tub first, to see if it really was labor this time. I said no. I knew this was it. He filled the tub and I got in. It was heavenly!
We put Friends on the computer and we actually watched it right up until transition. The water got my contractions closer together, not further apart. They were 3-4 minutes apart almost as soon as I got in, then 2-3 minutes. The DVD player shut down and I told Chad to leave it off. I remember sitting in the warm water, with the windows open. It felt so good, and I could hear the crickets chirping outside, and thinking, “This is the way to do this. I don’t want to be anywhere else.”
Transition was intense and painful but less confusing and scary than it was with Maddie, by far. I never felt out of it or confused like I did with her birth. Soon it felt better to bear down than to relax, and Chad thought I still hadn’t gone through transition but I was already pushing! He was blown away to realize how quickly things were going-he’d hardly had to do any work yet.
My water hadn’t broken yet, after quite a few pushing contractions, but I could feel her head right there. I allowed the overwhelming urge to take over at first, then forced myself to breathe through and slow down, with Chad’s help. I felt her head trying to come out but the bag of waters was still there. I thought, I wonder if my short, bitten nail could break the thing. I touched it, barely, and it popped. Then I could feel hair and that was all the encouragement I needed. I wish I could describe what the rest of the birth was like but I don’t really have the words. To know that we were doing this, totally our way and that it was going so quickly and smoothly, was just really amazing. Chad and I just looked at each other in awe of what was happening. We felt completely connected to each other, to the baby, and to the entire process as it unfolded exactly the way it was meant to.
Chad couldn’t believe how far along I was already. He thought we’d have hours left. I pushed, gently, through crowning, which took several contractions. I did my own perineal support and could tell exactly where I needed to put pressure to keep from tearing. Crowning was intense but so cool! I could feel the baby trying to help me, pushing with her feet and trying to get out too. Her head and body came out in one contraction, and Chad said “Reach down!” I caught her myself, and pulled her up to me. The cord was around her neck but she was already crying and breathing just fine. I unwound it, and she nursed within about 3 minutes. It was so incredible!
I thought the whole pregnancy that I was having a boy, so it was a little surprising to find out she was a girl! But I knew before she was even out-I changed from “he” to “she” unconsciously-I remember saying to Chad, “The cord is around her neck.”
The water was a little cool so we got out pretty soon. I sat down on some towels on the floor, and plop! Out came the placenta. That was easy! I bled less than I did with Maddie and was much less sore. I didn’t tear, except for a little skidmark I couldn’t even see (but could feel when I used the bathroom for about the first day). She was born around 3:23 am, after just about 4 hours of active labor. We didn’t check the time right away but that’s pretty close. We called all the people who wanted late-night calls, and Chad’s mom came over for a little while to meet her. She went home and we went to bed for a couple of hours. It was so nice to be finished with birthing, take a shower in my own shower, then cuddle up in our own bed. Maddie slept through the whole thing, and in the morning she was SO excited to meet her little sister!
We had lots of visitors our first day with her, and that was nice too-no cooking and everybody
brought me stuff! We weighed her Sunday afternoon, and she was 8 pounds, 1 ounce. We also finally came up with her name, Grace Alexandra. My recovery with Maddie amazed everyone I knew, but this recovery was insanely easy. I was out shopping with Chad and my 2 girls on Tuesday (she was born Sunday morning). I wasn’t sore after the first day postpartum, and my milk came in in under two days. That took 5-6 days with Maddie, and I’m 100% convinced it was the interruption in our home life that caused the delay.
Having just Chad and me present for the birth is the best thing we’ve ever done. I wasn’t at all afraid-I just knew everything was fine. We were the only people there when she was conceived, and it felt absolutely 100% right that we were the only people there when she was born. I was able to listen to my body completely, without anyone to depend on but myself and Chad. Chad was wonderful-he helped me remember not to push too hard, and he was my anchor during transition and pushing both physically and emotionally. Her birth was intense, sometimes painful, very hard work…but definitely one of the most incredible things I’ve ever experienced.