One of the things I loved about working with midwives is that each visit lasted 45 minutes. From your sex life to your diet, midwives are very thorough. I have parallel care with an MD for blood work; however, I opted out of most testing. I never had an ultrasound or many of the other recommended tests, because I was committed to having my child, no matter what might be wrong with him/her. My good friend was also pregnant at the time, and she had a horrible pregnancy of constant worry and trips to the bay area for level 2 ultrasounds. She was told her child might have down’s syndrome, then was told the baby only had half a kidney. In the end, her daughter was born healthy, but I remember at the time thinking, there could be something wrong with my baby, and I wouldn’t know it. It turns out I was right.
Early in my first trimester, I got very sick with a fever (one of the hazards of being a teacher). I went from this illness to morning sickness, and lost 12 pounds those first three months. Again, the doctor and midwives were concerned I wouldn’t gain weight, but I did in the end, grossing 45 extra pounds. During my sixth month, I started having contractions. They felt a little bit more serious than Braxton-Hicks, so my midwives sentenced me to one hour of bedrest in the morning, and one hour in the afternoon. I was convinced this baby was coming early; he was five days late.
My due date came and went, so I became active again. I hiked, mowed the lawn, and even weedeated with my big belly. My mom arrived to watch my three-year-old daughter during my labor, because as much as I wanted her to be part of the home birth of her sibling, I was afraid I would hemorrhage again, and she would be scared. I have to admit I was nervous about this and contemplated a hospital birth, but I was so attached to my midwives, and I was confident in their plan. I would receive a shot of pitocin immediately after delivering, as well as take Lady’s Mantle.
Once again, we rented a house on the coast, since we live too far away from the hospital to attempt a home birth in the mountains. We tried going in to town a few days before my due date, but I needed to be home to start my labor. When I started having contractions, I wasn’t sure it was the real thing from all the contractions I had been having my whole third trimester. I was typing an email to my friend Bill, when I had to pause, I decided the contractions must be real. We loaded up the car, and once again, for fear of my mother’s mountain driving, I drove myself two hours into town in labor while my husband followed behind.
My son was born only three hours after we arrived at our rented home. It was just enough time to get the birthing tub set up, midwives to arrive, and settle in. I was fortunate to have Jan, one of the same midwives as with my first child, and her new partner Calista, a former college roommate of mine, assist me with my birth. I chose midwives, because I wanted more out of birth. I wanted my child to enter a world filled with love and friendship, rather than the sterility of a hospital full of strangers with no guarantees of who was on-call that night.
When I read Ina May’s books during this pregnancy, I really embraced her words and thought about how I handled the pain of my first birth. No matter how corny it sounded, I was going to visualize a flower opening and think about letting go, rather than clinching in pain. This visualization worked so well, that my son came out almost too quickly once my labor progressed.
I got into the birthing tub, and one of Jan went to the bathroom. I felt the baby’s head crowning, and my flower was blooming rapidly. I yelled to Jan to get out of the bathroom fast; he was coming. He came like a freight train; I don’t even remember having to push. He came so fast, that I tore.
When my son was born, his feet and hands were blue, but I that is not so uncommon. He was given oxygen immediately and a homeopathic remedy, and we kept him in the warm water while I delivered the placenta. We left the tub, so that I could be stitched. In all the excitement, he was not placed on the breast right away, and he slept peacefully through it all. When we finally put him on the breast, he barely suckled and only briefly. We let him rest, went about the business of cleaning up the birth, and relaxed.
Jan went to her daughter’s house to return some towels we had borrowed, when she returned, chaos had broken out. Calista was concerned my son would not awake, would not open his eyes, would not nurse. I could not stop crying, and we called the doctor who had done my parallel care. She offered to come to the house, but said that if his eyes were really fused shut, she would have to refer us to the pediatrician. Jan asked if I wanted to just go see the pediatrician, and I said yes.
We met the doctor at his office at about 9:00 pm, just two hours after my son was born. I appreciated he didn’t make us go to the hospital and opened up his office to us. He was able to get my boy to open his eyes in the dark room, but he heard a loud heart murmur in his chest. He told me that he wanted the baby to nurse for a total of 15 minutes minimum in the next 12 hours, or he would have to be admitted. Otherwise, he would see us in two days and schedule an EKG. Thankfully my boy nursed for about 30 minutes, but he was a weak nurser, and I was very worried. My midwives were thankful I was already an experienced nurser and had many tricks up my sleeve. The next morning, my mother broke down while holding him, and we all were so worried he wasn’t thriving.
My son’s first EKG came back normal for a newborn, since newborn hearts are erratic anyways. We were cleared to return to the mountains for two weeks and hoped he simply had an innocent murmur. As soon as we got home and my milk came in, my son became a champion nurser. He didn’t nurse for long periods of time, but he nursed frequently. He would pull off the breast often during a feeding, but I thought this was just his style of nursing. It turns out, it was related to his heart.
When my son was 12-days-old, a tree fell on a power line five miles from our home and started a forest fire. The winds brought this fire to our property quickly, and I had to flee with my children while their dad remained to defend the homestead. It was one of the scariest experiences of my life compounded with the worry of my son’s little heart. Four years later, I write this birth story once again surrounded by fire.
When we were allowed to return home to the contained fire, even though we lived within the containment lines and it was still burning (our driveway was the fire line), we had only a few days to rest before returning for another EKG. The results of this EKG warranted an echocardiogram. A pediatric cardiologist in San Francisco was consulted, and we rushed down to UCSF. That night in the hospital surrounded by heart sick babies, I was frightened, while the fires still burned at home. My son was diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF), a congenital heart defect. They did a battery of tests to rule out various syndromes, and my head swam as medical jargon was thrown at me. I would not let my baby out of my arms. Hooked up to all kinds of monitors, he slept on my chest in a chair all night. I refused to place him in the hospital crib. My son’s condition was stable, and we were released. He would need open heart surgery, which occurred when he was four-months-old.
My son is doing great! We’ve had a few more little scares along the way, but he is happy, tall, and runs everywhere. He’s been delayed in his motor development from the surgery, but his heart is in good shape, thanks to his amazing doctors. I am thankful I was able to have the home birth I wanted without dire consequences to his health. His heart defect could have been detected with a level 2 ultrasound, but there were no indications throughout my pregnancy that this was warranted. Had his TOF been diagnosed in utero, I probably would have had to give birth in San Francisco in case he needed immediate surgery. In the end, I have nothing to regret in my choice to have a home birth.
For both of my home births, I had two midwives and an apprentice. The apprentice was responsible for doing routine checks and documenting on my chart. The midwives always worked together, but the presence of both women was comforting so that one could attend to the baby and one could attend to the mother in an emergency. After my son was born, my midwives accompanied me to every weekly doctor’s appointment he required before surgery, and every local echocardiogram. The post partum support they gave me was essential for my family during this time of crisis. When you are chosing a midwife, you are not just chosing someone to deliver your baby, you are chosing someone that will support you beyond prenatal care and the birth. I think ongoing, supportive maternal and paternal postpartum care is something missing from our current medical system.
More Labor of Love birth stories:
- Labor of Love: Julian’s Birth Story
- Labor of Love: Bypassing a Scheduled Cesarean – Natural VBAC
- Labor of Love: My Daughter’s Home Birth, Hemorrhage Story
- Birth Story: My First Lesson as a Parent
- Labor of Love: Picotin and the Umbilical Cord
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