To tell the story of Keira’s birth, a little background is necessary. Keira’s big brother, Kyle, was born via cesarean section five years and two months prior to her birth. I had educated myself about pregnancy, but was ignorantly unprepared for labor and birth. I trusted my OB to care for me however she thought was best. Unfortunately, she was quite the interventionist and when my water broke at 37 weeks (in hindsight, this was more likely leaking hindwaters) she told me to go straight to the hospital. Like a good patient, I did just that to be told my contractions weren’t strong enough and given pitocin. This led to an IV pain relief, followed shortly by an epidural. Within 30 minutes of being given the epidural, I was complete and I started pushing. His heart rate dropped, and his head was turned. Laboring all day with pitocin and flat on my back set me up for the surgery. The epidural didn’t take enough for surgery, the spinal needle the anesthesiologist brought to the OR wasn’t long enough, and so the surgery was performed under general anesthesia. I woke up to meet my precious boy three hours after he was born.
The cesarean was awful to recover from physically and emotionally and was something I knew I never wanted to repeat. When I was pregnant with my second child, Kaleigh, I set out to do everything in my power to not have a surgical birth again. I planned an unmedicated birth, took Bradley classes, chose the only OB in town who would be flexible with typical OB protocols, hired a doula who was a midwife apprentice, and chose the only hospital in town without blanket policies they apply to every pregnant woman. The VBAC was beautiful, the hospital followed my birth plan to the letter, and we were home 12 hours later. Looking back, there were still things that bothered me about being in the hospital. It was enough for me to consider homebirth for future births.
About two months after moving to a new state, I was shocked to find out I was pregnant. The baby was quite the surprise for my husband as well. I started scrambling for prenatal care. I hadn’t even found a family doctor yet, but I had to start my search for the best of the best if there was any hope of having a VBAC as good as the previous one was. Fear of another cesarean birth was always in the back of my mind. I went to interview my doula in person. I had already talked with her on the phone and just knew she was right for me. She was also a midwife, and I thought I would have a highly experienced and knowledgeable doula. Later I switched to a homebirth with my then doula, now midwife.
The pregnancy was normal and the healthiest one by far. I saw a chiropractor regularly and I know this kept the so-called normal pregnancy discomforts, and sometimes pain, away. I have never passed my due date before and when I did this time I was in for a wild emotional ride. The first few days I was rather nonchalant about the issue, still happily trusting baby was healthy and knew when her birthday should be. After the first week, I had to work hard reminding myself of that. At the end of the second week, I was begging God in my prayers that labor would start. How does the saying go…. be careful what you wish for? I whined a lot. I complained a lot. It was HARD. It was August in the South, for crying out loud! Each pregnancy brought a new challenge for me and now with this one I just knew she’d never come out. Must’ve been cozy in there because labor finally began 16 days after her due date.
About 4:15 am on August 13 I awoke to pee as I did every night the last several months. This time, I had three strong contractions in a row before I got out of bed. My husband was sleeping on the couch (no, he wasn’t in trouble…in an effort to get a better night’s sleep he moved to the couch for a while as co-sleeping with a toddler doesn’t work so well with two adults, one largely pregnant, in a queen size bed). I woke him up and had a couple more contractions in the chair while he timed them. I was so uncomfortable there during just a couple contractions, so I went back to bed. I laid down on my left side and propped a pillow between my legs. I needed him to put counter pressure in my lower back as I relaxed through the contractions. They were coming so fast and his hands were busy with counter pressure that there wasn’t time to time the contractions. About 5:10, he decided to call the midwife between contractions. We didn’t have a clear idea of how often they were coming, so she was telling my husband to call back in a little while. Then I had a really long, hard contraction while she was on the phone. She told him that it sounded like I was going to go fast so she was on her way.
I was still on my left side relaxing my entire body during each contraction while my husband continued applying pressure with his fists in my lower back. The midwives arrived about 6:15 am. My husband heard them pull into the driveway and quietly told me “Did you hear that? They’re here.” It was like he knew it would be easier on me just knowing they’d arrived. He was right. My 21-month-old dd woke up shortly after they arrived, but before my sister-in-law was there. Good thing she’s a sweet morning person. She was happy to see the midwives and had gotten to know them during our prenatal visits. So when one of them took her from the room to get a snack, she was happy to go. The first thing I got was a heating pad for my back. Blissful! It was electric, and plugged in right beside the bed. No microwaving the pad like last time and enduring a contraction without it. One of the midwives asked me if I wanted a vaginal exam. In between contractions, I barely rolled over, but she couldn’t feel any cervix at all. I was lying kind of on my side, so it was hard for her to tell how much I had dilated. Between contractions, I was thinking “I wonder how long this is going to last?” in a curious way, not a this-is-too-painful way. Those pesky midwives made me get up to go pee shortly after. So in between contractions I made my way to the bathroom. I had a couple contractions on the toilet, but I wanted to lie down again. I was having a really strong contraction as I made it to the edge of the bed and just collapsed down on my right side to get relax through. I didn’t want to get up and move at all because it was so difficult to get back into my groove through the contractions. That contraction was so hard because I spent those few seconds before it hit trying to get back in bed instead of relaxing my body.
The next contraction I had made me double over and curl in a fetal position in bed. My midwife thought I was going to throw up and passed me a bowl, but it was my uterus contracting and pushing that made me do that. I pushed gently with it to see if it felt better, and had a small bowel movement. That was their first indication I might be ready to push. I thought to myself “I CAN’T be ready to push…. I haven’t had transition yet!” I never had any thoughts of not being able to continue. I did wonder how long it would take to get to second stage, but I never once had the typical transition thoughts like I had last time (and, boy, did I have some bad thoughts last time). I truly believe that being at home is what made the difference in my thoughts during transition.
So back to the bathroom we went to let me push there. The first contraction I pushed again and “pop” went my bag of water. I also managed to pee a little more. The midwives were asking me if I peed or if my water broke, and when I relaxed, I said “Both!”. Then back to the bed we went. My sister-in-law arrived about this time to take care of the kids. A lot happened in between the time the midwives got there and when she arrived, but it was only about 20 minutes. The midwives had propped up all my pillows so I could sit upright to continue pushing. Pushing this time was very different. I read an email on the ICAN list sometime during the pregnancy about letting your uterus push the baby out that really stuck with me. So if I felt like barely pushing, then I just barely pushed, if at all, and let my uterus do the work. Some contractions were so strong that I pushed much harder. It was amazing how in tune to my body I was and how I was able to just know with each contraction what was needed at the time.
The midwives started telling me that if I moved to the birthing stool that my pushes would be much more effective. It took a couple of times for me to get up the nerve to move again. Darn pesky midwives (I say that with love)! Once again I did not want to move, but I didn’t mind the idea of the birth stool. I just didn’t want to have to walk over there! I had taken only a few steps when another hard contraction hit. I had one hand on a piece of furniture and another in my midwife’s hand for support and I pushed during that contraction standing upright. She told me “What a woman!” Still not sure why….I was just pushing standing up. We made it to the birthing stool. One midwife was behind me for support, and the other on the floor in front of me with my husband, my official photographer.
I’m not sure how long I pushed on the stool, but I only pushed for 40 minutes total so it wasn’t very long. I pushed much harder at this point, and still had plenty of time to relax between contractions. The only loud noises I made the entire labor was during crowning. I didn’t feel the “ring of fire” at crowning during the last birth, but I certainly did this time. As I crowned, my daughter heard the noise from the bedroom and walked to the door. My sister-in-law was right behind her, but I heard my daughter say “Mommy hurt?” I remember thinking she was so sweet to worry about me. Keira’s head emerged with her hand beside her head. I remembered feeling relief at the head being out with my last VBAC, but I wasn’t feeling quite the same this time. I wanted the rest of her out! Now! Another push and Keira Pauline was born at 8:10 am. Four short hours after labor finally started. She was put into my arms immediately. My husband cut the cord after it stopped pulsing. Later when we weighed her we were shocked to find she weighed 10 lbs, 1 oz! She was also 21 inches long. And no tears or skid marks!
There was very little blood. My midwife said she was really surprised because there’s always a drop or two that needs to be cleaned up and there wasn’t any! They were also surprised that I labored as long as I did on my side. They said most people need to move when the contractions get stronger. I just shrugged and said “I don’t know, but it was so comfortable to be in that position so I stayed there.” The placenta took what seemed like forever to come out, but it finally did and weighed over a pound! It was such a normal, peaceful birth. No dramatics… just welcoming a beautiful baby into the world and our family. My son awoke just after the placenta was out, and we welcomed him and my daughter into the room to meet their new baby sister. It was such a beautiful family moment.
As I reflect on this birth and my other two, I sometimes wish I had planned a homebirth from the beginning and avoided the over-medicalisation that led to my c-section the first time and the subsequent anxiety that surrounded my second pregnancy. But then I don’t think I would be as strong as I am now if I hadn’t experienced a c-section, an unmedicated hospital birth, and a beautiful homebirth. It took three births, but I truly have come full circle in this journey of growing our family.