That next week I had an appointment with the midwives and we found out the baby was in a breech position. It was the week before September 11, and I was almost 34 weeks pregnant. Our midwife said that they like babies to turn by 34 weeks and she recommended breech tilt exercises that I should do five times daily along with a homeopathic remedy. We did that religiously, as well as visualization, frozen peas on my belly, light, walking, body work, several external version attempts, acupuncture/ moxabustion. You name it, we tried it. The first external version attempt was made by indigenous Guatemalan midwives visiting for a midwifery conference. They used no doppler or even a stethoscope. They were just calm, gentle and persistent, working in tandem. But after a few minutes, they said with complete certainty, “He does not want to turn.” We should have listened to them and left it at that. Our midwives’ backup doctor wanted to do a hospital version using terbutalin to relax the abdominal muscles, which we seriously considered. My MW told us her other clients had had good results with hospital versions, but my intuition kept telling me not to do it. I did, however, invite midwives who very experienced with version twice to my home attempt to turn the baby. During these external version attempts, the heart rate dropped way down. It was scary. It reminded me of what I have heard of my own birth, that my heart was dropping and that is why my mother had a C-section.
It was a really hard month and a half, as we had to accept that the baby was not going to turn and to explore our options for his birth. We read all the studies, watched videos, and talked to many friends, family, midwives, and doctors about what to do. With my MW’s support, we became very informed about breech birth. We wanted so badly for our baby to turn, so we could have the simple home birth we wanted, but I came to a point of no longer wanting to try to make him turn. We had an ultrasound in the last month, and confirmed that he was in a frank breech position, and everything looked just fine. I felt strongly that my baby knew the best and safest way to be born. And I wanted to trust the baby in that, trust God, trust my body. I was learning to surrender. My mother heard the phrase, “This child will bow to no man.”
We excluded the possibility of a scheduled C-section from the start, yet that is the basic policy of all the hospitals and doctors in Albuquerque. My MW helped us understand all of our options and was supportive of whatever choice we made from the start, but we also knew that it is against midwifery regulations in New Mexico to attend breech home births…. We considered a birth center in Taos. We considered going to The Farm, a birth center in Tennessee, which is very experienced in breech births (see Spiritual Midwifery). We considered a hospital birth with our midwives’ back-up doctor. But in the end, I knew I didn’t want to be somewhere LIKE home, I wanted to BE home. And I felt that was the gentlest, safest place to birth my baby.
Fear came from every direction—from the studies, from the faces of friends, from doctors, and from our family that told us we would be crazy to have the baby at home. Yet we decided to pursue a home birth. For us it was a matter of faith, of trust in God/ Mother Nature/My body/Our baby. Yet I still woke up afraid almost every morning. My MW assured me that the fear was normal. I really had to deal with that fear: I tried through art, through prayer, visualization, and affirmation, through talking to Aaron, through connecting with nature, and through allowing myself to cry. I drew scary red and black pictures of the baby’s head getting stuck, and just let my fear flow out of me. I often repeated a silent mantra of Pam England’s, “These bones are made for birthing.” In silent meditation, I saw images of an old grandmother sitting by a fire, and I would ask her for wisdom and strength. I would ask her whether my baby was going to turn and whether he was going to be OK. Sometimes it felt like she was my friend and ally, other times I imagined her as the placenta/ umbilical cord that was holding on to my baby and would not/ might not let him come out. I would ask her to let him go. I felt that I had to make peace with her for her to give me the gift of her wisdom. In the end, I felt she was telling me that I could do it, and my baby would be OK, but she would not tell me that my baby would turn. It was very hard, but in hindsight I think part of what allowed me to have the beautiful birth I was hoping for was dealing with that fear, facing it and feeling it fully. I am even grateful now that David was breech, because it forced me to be much more conscious as I approached the birth. I prayed a lot, and tried to turn everything over to God. I constantly came back to one word—SURRENDER.
During my last couple of months of pregnancy, I usually walked for at least an hour daily. I had several habitual routes, but my favorite was the one that would take me through Hidden Park, a park full of trees that was completely surrounded by homes. It became like as sacred ritual for me. I was often all alone there walking through the trees. I felt them imbue me with power, with life-force. Sometimes I would hang on to a tree, and hang-down and squat, feeling myself connected to the heighths of the tree and rooted in the depths of the earth. I had a wonderful mother blessing ceremony a couple of weeks before the birth at Hidden Park. Other mothers shared wisdom from their own birth journeys. Two mothers told they were just present to the process, surrendering. That was the best wisdom anyone gave me. We sat in a circle and each woman expressed a prayer/ intention for the birth as she added a bead to a bracelet that we passed around the circle. One bead wouldn’t go on. The wire wouldn’t pass through it. She tried really hard to get it on, but never did. That brought up all my fears. I wondered if it was a bad sign… (Now I see that bead simply as a symbol of my fear. And I keep it along with all the others.) It was a very empowering and loving ceremony. I wore the bracelet and never took it off in my last couple weeks of pregnancy.
It was also in the last few weeks that my MW got me in touch with a woman in another state who had given birth to a double footling breech unassisted (UC). She told me her birth story, and how she had birthed in a very secluded, rural place. She was committed to a home birth no matter what. She was walking by a river, after her water had already been broken quite some time. She heard the roaring water and her contractions finally started. She felt like a mountain lion. “I am birthing like a mountain lion,” was her refrain throughout labor. She described how powerful she felt, and her smooth and beautiful birth. Her words often came back to me in those last weeks. I had all the preparation I needed.
I remember in those last couple weeks, the cool, crisp fall air, and leaves on the ground. I remember playful times with my husband and good friend Sarah, making a belly cast, and painting silly faces on my belly. I continued walking a lot, and I had about one real contraction a day for the last two weeks, usually while I was walking. These contractions weren’t really painful, but they definitely weren’t Braxton-hicks. They were intense enough that I had to stop, and I could feel my cervix stretching. We had finally made our decision to have a home birth. While my MW was not very experienced in breech birth, we had another midwife who was very experienced who would also attend the birth. We met with them to go over preparations and expectations for the birth. They explained to me, among other things, that sometimes women who have breech babies have the urge to push before their cervix is quite fully dilated. They instructed me that I needed to be prepared to pant through contractions (and not push) for up to an hour or more, until my cervix was truly 10 centimeters. In this way we could best facilitate a safe breech birth. They said this is very hard, but they would help me through it.
The Friday before my son was born, I painted a big green peace sign on my belly and went to a peace march. Afterward, I went to my prenatal appointment. When I saw my MW, I could tell something was wrong. She informed me that she had received a call from the licensing board, telling her she could lose her license if she attended my birth… It was a heavy moment. She told me that if we still decided to go forward with a homebirth she would not abandon us, but she suggested other possibilities including driving out of state with us, or reconsidering a hospital birth. She said Dr. B would come over that afternoon, if I wanted him to, to do internal pelvimetry (measurements of the pelvis), so that I would have that option. I agreed.
Dr. B was the only doctor in Albuquerque at that time willing to do vaginal breech birth (that I know of). And his hospital had instituted a policy several years ago of basically mandatory C-section. It was against hospital policy to even inform a woman that vaginal breech birth was an option. But at my request, Dr. B was able to consider attending a vaginal breech birth. He came and did an exam, and felt confident that my pelvis was normal with ample room to allow a breech baby passage. I shouldn’t have needed that reassurance, but I must say it helped me breathe a sigh of relief (I have a small frame). He also told me that I was already 3 centimeters dilated. He suggested that he and a nurse come to our house the next day to discuss the possibility of a hospital birth. He explained that he had discussed the situation with a charge nurse who was very supportive of natural birth and vaginal breech. He explained that he did not have a lot of control over hospital practices, but that Nurse K might be able to help us have the birth we wanted in the hospital.
That night my husband and I talked a lot. Asking my MW to risk her license for us was not an option. We seriously considered getting on a plane to Tennessee, but felt that it was too late for that and we might not make it. We briefly considered an unattended breech home birth, but I did not feel comfortable with that. This was my first baby. And I felt that I really wanted my MW’s support. I liked her, and trusted her completely. Driving out-of –state was also not appealing so late in the game. We wrote a letter to the licensing board expressing our objection to the policy that does not allow parents to make an informed decision about how to birth their breech baby, and threatens the safety of breech birth by forbidding the attendance of experienced midwives.
The next day, my MW, Nurse K, and Dr. B all came to our house and sat in our tiny, two-room apartment. They were warm and understanding of all our concerns. One of the reasons we had initially decided against hospital birth was that Dr. B had said that we would have to have continuous fetal monitoring; we would have to be moved from the labor room, to a surgical delivery room, he would have at least one resident with him, and that there would have to be a team of pediatric specialists standing by for the birth—all matters of hospital policy, all practices that we objected to. But getting Nurse K on board had created new options. Nurse K was willing to be on call for the birth, and do intermittent fetal monitoring with a doppler. She thought it was better not to have a print out of the baby’s heart rate in the main area for all the nurses to see. She was very skilled at postnatal resuscitation, so we would not need a team of pediatric doctors. She also said that she would get the best labor room she could for us, and we would stay there. We would not need to move to a surgical delivery room. She said that only routine intervention she would require was inserting a hep-loc (without an IV) upon arrival, just in case. She described how she would play gate keeper and run interference, so that other hospital personnel would not enter our room during labor. She also explained that she would meet us outside the hospital, so that we would not even need to go through triage. I immediately liked her and trusted them both. Hospital birth was becoming an option. That day we made our decision to have a natural breech birth in the hospital with my MW acting as doula, and a radical doctor and nurse attending.
At 10:30pm my water broke. I had just lied down to go to sleep, and felt a little wetness between my legs. I went to the bathroom to check it out, and just felt like I needed to pee, but each time I thought I was done peeing, it started coming again. Finally, I got back in bed, and liquid started flowing again. Finally it dawned on me that my water had broken, and I asked Aaron to get a towel.
When my MW arrived she checked the baby’s heart rate, but agreed with us that it was best not to do a vaginal exam even though she had promised Dr. B that she would. Aaron suggested that we do a little ritual with the belly basket that my MW had loaned to us. We each wrote down an intention for my labor. We read them and put them into the basket, along with a mama bear fetish a friend had given me, and the bead that symbolized fear. My MW said to try and get some sleep and suggested a glass of wine. I had a couple of loose bowel movements after she left and then said we should get out the wine. Many people had prepared us for a long labor, so we had a special bottle of wine waiting in case I went into labor at night. My husband, Aaron, and my good friend, Sarah who was staying with us for the birth, sat down with me to have a glass of wine. After a couple of sips, I heard a pop. I thought it was the baby kicking really hard, but then came a gush. We all laughed.
It was midnight. My contractions started immediately and we decided to head for bed and try to get some sleep, while I was in early labor. I laid down and began to relax deeply. Right away my contractions were three to four minutes apart. My husband was timing. He called my MW to let her know that contractions had started and that they were pretty close together. She said labor often starts fast after the water breaks and then slows down. We kept timing on and off for the next half an hour, as I got ready for bed. I remember the feeling of getting up to go to pee, and having several contractions on the way there and back. My memory starts to have a fuzzy surreal quality at this point.
After a while we noticed that the contractions were still coming steadily at about two or three minutes apart, so we called my MW again just to let her know they were still coming fast. She listened to a contraction with me on the phone and I breathed through it. She asked me how it felt, and I said, “They’re not painful, just intense. They’re just coming faster than I expected.” She said, “You don’t sound like you are in active labor yet. Just call me again, when the intensity goes up a notch. I told Aaron to stop timing and try to sleep. I tried to settle into the contractions and completely relax. I was laying on my left side in a state of deep relaxation. I really felt like I was getting deep rest in the two or three minutes between contactions, and I enjoyed watching the sensation of the contractions rising and falling. I felt them as an intense pulling in my lower abdomen, but I would not call them painful except maybe for an instant at the peak. Aaron had slept for about an hour, when I woke him up and said it was time to call my MW. At that point I felt like they were really taking my total concentration. We started timing again before he called. He timed several contractions, and then when he was timing one of them he said, “Is it over yet?” I said, “Umm, almost, I think so… wait, here it comes again.” When the contraction was over, I said, “I think that was a ‘double peak’. I thought those come during transition.” We both started laughing. I couldn’t be in transition. Aaron called our MW, and she said that she would be right over. We started timing again, and I felt more wetness coming out. I asked Aaron to check if it was blood or water. I heard him say, “Celeste, Sarah’s going to take care of you now, while I go out and call the MW.” I remember a vague sense that he sounded a little nervous. Then Sarah was there holding my hand. The contractions were really intense now. I started getting chills and shivering hard. I said to Sarah, “Go tell Aaron I’m having chills.”
Later, I found out that Aaron was really worried because of all the blood coming out. My MW said it sounded like I was in transition. She said she would be there in about five minutes.
Next thing I knew, My MW was there and she said that I was 9 centimeters dilated and it was time to get ready to go to the hospital. It was 2:30 am. At that point I was starting to feel a mild urge to push, but mostly I felt an urgent need to get out of the house quickly and make sure I had everything I needed to birth in the hospital. It’s hard to describe my feelings at this point. In the moment I was simply aware of the business at hand, focusing on my contractions, and getting ready to go in the couple minutes in between. But I was also a little worried. Things were not going as I expected. I was glad that things were progressing so smoothly, but I thought I would spend early and active labor at home with Aaron, Sarah, and my MW over many hours. Then I thought we would go to the hospital at the very end. We had planned an early labor project, we had planned to labor in the tub. We had a whole check list of things to do, when I went into labor, but now it was all happening so fast.
Aaron asked me jokingly, what we needed. And then I took charge. In hindsight, I think at that moment I woke up from labor land. I started listing everything that needed to go in the car. All my pillows in a bag, the baby’s bag, my backpack, the backpack with birth supplies, the CD player, etc. I kept asking Aaron if Dr. B and Nurse K had been called. We finally called them on the way. I got in the back seat of the car with my MW, kneeling on the floor and leaning on the seat. I was really feeling the urge to push at this point, and it was such a strange sensation as the car started moving.
We got to the hospital and I did not want to get out of the car. I kept saying, “I’m not getting out until Nurse K gets here.” I did not want to walk into the hospital with a breech baby in transition, and stumble upon whatever nurse was in triage. (In hindsight, it is not hard to understand why my dilation stopped in the transition to the hospital.) I needed Nurse K. Thank God, she arrived a couple of minutes later. In a blur we all made it into a quiet and peaceful, if sterile hospital room. By this time my urge to push was strong. I was having pushing contractions, but using all my concentration to pant through them and not push. I felt that my baby’s life depended on it. I remember staring into my MW’s eyes during many of the contractions, and connecting to her strong, calm presence, in an effort to keep my panic at bay each time I felt the unbearable urge to push. It went on like this for 5 hours, although I had no perception of the time… My contractions never slowed down, but dilation stopped. I stayed at 9 1/2 cm with a lip of cervix that refused to disappear. The birth attendants came and went. Aaron and I got in and out of the shower. I was cold and hot, cold and hot, blankets on, blankets off. I was completely present through each contraction, completely in the moment. Time had no meaning. I have never been so present in my life. Despite the intense challenge of not pushing, I was calm and at peace most of the time. Moaning loudly, but in no pain, and not afraid, just completely present. My mantra was OPEN. When I felt any frustration or fatigue, I would moan/command: “Oooopen!”
Each time Dr. B would come and check my dilation, and tell me the lip of cervix was still there, I felt a brief wave of disappointment, but then was lost again in labor land. I was ready for it to take as long as it needed to take. I was not tired. I was just present, and inside myself. I felt Aaron’s support, but did not want to be touched or talked to, or helped much. At least I don’t remember it. I just remember floating in pure concentration and presence.
Several times, Dr. B came and tried to help me dilate the last bit. He would tell me to go ahead and push through a contraction, and he pushed back on the lip of cervix. It was excruciating! It felt like my insides were being ripped open, and I screamed in agony. He tried that 3 times, and each time it did not help. Everyone left us alone for a while. Then Nurse K came in and spoke to me. She gently explained that Dr. Bwas getting concerned. The lip was not going away. In fact, it was getting firmer. She encouraged me to let the contractions come strongly, and try to dilate that last bit. I don’t remember if she said it, but I knew she was saying they would want to do a C-section soon. I had no energy to resist, but I did feel disappointment and fear vaguely at that moment. I don’t remember responding.
Moments later, my MW came back in with Dr. B. They had agreed that she would try one last time to help my cervix fully dilate. She explained to me that she would massage my cervix. She had no hospital privileges, but behind closed doors, Dr. B allowed her to massage my cervix. We shouldn’t have needed anyone’s permission. Nevertheless, for Dr. B’s humility and trust, I will always be grateful. She massaged my cervix through two contractions, gently telling me to feel my cervix “melting away”. It hurt, but nothing like when Dr. B had pushed on my cervix. I heard her words “melting away” deeply, and I knew it was in fact melting away. After two contractions, I could see by the look on her face, it was gone! My MW later explained to me that she had gone into the chapel to pray, and she heard her mentor MW’s voice say clearly, “Massage it!” This was not something she had ever done before, or read about, she just trusted her inner voice. And my body must have trusted that voice as well!
I sat up and smiled, and started pushing, finally. I said, “It feels so good to push after not pushing for two hours.” Everyone looked at me, and Aaron said, “No, it’s been five hours.” I couldn’t believe it. I got up onto the bed and held onto a birthing bar. I let my whole body hang into a squat and pushed with my whole spirit during each contraction. It felt great! Aaron supported my body to lie back and rest in between contractions. I wanted no one else by my side. I felt so powerful and exhilarated. No pain. No fear. I felt great. In between contractions, I was smiling, beaming. I felt my baby move downward with each push. What an incredible sensation! At one point during pushing, Nurse K monitored the heart beat with the doppler, and we could hear that it was a little slow. She told me to take deep breaths. My MW told me to send love to the baby. As I breathed deeply and sent infinite love toward my darling baby, I could hear the heartbeat just come right back up. It was amazing. (Very healing, as I was born by C-section because of heart deceleration.) Ahh, the power of breath and love!
I felt my baby’s slippery body move through me as the butt and legs came out, amazing! Then there was a pause. My next contraction was slow in coming. I was vaguely aware of looks of nervousness on the faces of the attendants, and I think they were sort of encouraging me to go ahead and push. I remember it seemed incomprehensible to me that they were worried, because I had an utter confidence that everything was fine, and the next powerful contraction was on its way and I would push. I was completely confident and beyond all fear. Come it did, and I pushed with all my might. Then Dr. B told me to just keep pushing even between contractions, which I did. I felt a huge pressure and pain that I cannot even quite remember or describe… and then it was done. (This was the head passing through my pelvis and my perineum tearing as Dr. L reached in to provide traction to the cheek bones.) I can honestly say that this last moment, and the times that attendants touched my cervix were the only real pain I experienced during the labor.
I fell back onto the bed and they placed my baby on my stomach. I felt him, but didn’t get a look at him. I have no visual memories. I just remember Nurse K’s voice saying his heart beat was slow. She cut the cord and everyone thing happened so fast. Everyone was over at the warming table as Nurse K suctioned and put the oxygen mask on him. Everyone was touching him and talking to him, trying to help him to start breathing. I was still on the bed, and wanted to be with my baby, NOW. So I didn’t even think about it. I just stood up, cord hanging between my legs, and started to walk towards my baby. They turned around, surprised to see me walking over. Then I realized I did feel a bit dizzy. My MW came and helped me over. I massaged my baby’s tiny purple foot, and then he started to breathe. We heard a little cry and all breathed a sigh of relief. It had been a couple of long moments, but here he was, fine! And so beautiful! They put him on Aaron’s chest with a blanket over him, and Aaron cried. I made my way back to the bed, and Aaron put him in my arms. Ahh, my baby. I looked into his dark, wise eyes, and knew the name we had been thinking of was just right—David, my wise king. He nursed immediately. We were all in bliss, and so grateful. David continued to nurse as the doctor stitched my tear (3rd degree). They gave me a shot of local painkiller for the stitches, thankfully, so I was oblivious as I bonded with my tiny, darling baby, David Joshua. He was 6 lbs. 1 oz. I breathed him in. His scent was heavenly! Really, I’ve never smelt anything else so wonderful in my life. Thank God, no one bathed him to take that scent away from me.
We soaked in the post-birth high for about two hours in the hospital. David finished nursing, and Nurse K did a newborn exam right there in the room with us. We had been very clear that our baby was not to go to the nursery or be out of our presence at all. Nurse K arranged this for us, though against hospital policy. In fact, David was never even checked into the hospital. Our MW still arranged the birth certificate for us. No bath, eye drops, or other routine tests. We did choose to do a Vitamin K shot, however, even though we hadn’t planned to, because his bum and testacles were so bruised from the birth. Then we got him dressed, gathered our things, and went home, two hours after he was born. We had already informed our doctor that we would not be staying in the hospital any longer than absolutely necessary, and were planning to check out against medical advice (AMA). But after the birth, he said there was no need, and sent us home with his blessing. My MW accompanied us to our house and tucked us all into bed for our babymoon! Among many pleasures, I still couldn’t get enough of David’s heavenly scent that whole first week, until we finally bathed him (Aaron couldn’t even smell it, LOL).
Nurse K, a labor and delivery nurse of many years, told me after the birth how deeply it had impacted her. She said it was one of the few medical intervention-free births she had seen in her career. After David’s birth, she decided to go into midwifery, and became my MW’s apprentice. Dr. B wanted a framed picture of David’s breech emergence for the wall in his office. By hospital policy, he is forbidden to tell a woman that vaginal breech birth is an option. But having the picture on his wall, is his subversive way of letting women know that it is possible, and encouraging them to request a vaginal breech birth.
David was the first vaginal breech baby born in more than 2 years in Albuquerque, NM (that was 2001). Now in 2005, vaginal breech birth is becoming even more rare. I share this story to let other women know that vaginal breech birth is possible! Breech babies can be born safely and beautifully to informed mamas. Breech is simply a variation and normal.
In hindsight, I think that if we had been allowed to stay at home, David would have been born more gently and naturally in the privacy of our home several hours sooner. Of course, there is no way to know for sure, and I am at peace with fond memories of his hospital birth surrounded by loving, gentle, respectful people. Nevertheless, I believe strongly that informed families should be able to make decisions about the best place to birth their child, and this should include the option of a home breech birth attended by an experienced midwife. I ask midwifery communities and regulations boards to consider this plea. If midwives don’t pass on the knowledge of safe vaginal breech birth now that hospitals have outlawed it, who will?
For story with photos, see my site: birthinginfinite.com
Mom to two perfect kids surrogate to two sweetpotatos born 4.21.11
I love someone with ataxia telangiectasia http://www.atcp.org
It is funny you should tell this birth story here because another midwife was recently telling me about the indigenous Guatemalan midwives attempting to turn a baby while they were up at a conference and that they decided no this baby doesn't want to turn. I wonder if it was you? this midwife who told me the story use to work in NM.
thank you for sharing your story
Canadian mama to A (C/S May 2004) and R (induced VBAC Dec 2007) expecting #3 in July. Currently obsessing over permaculture, photography and beekeeping.
Canadian mama to A (C/S May 2004) and R (induced VBAC Dec 2007) expecting #3 in July. Currently obsessing over permaculture, photography and beekeeping.