My home birth did not go as I planned, and still, it was marvelous!
There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.”
Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimmage
I gave birth this day 1 year ago, with my entire family asleep (husband included) and no medical care providers present. It was amazing, from beginning to end, and it was 100% not my plan at the same time. I’d love to share the story with you.
I have hesitated in the past to share the stories of my children’s births, particularly in settings where my clients or potential clients might be. In part, this was because I am aware of the ability of my stories to make some mothers (especially those with traumatic birth stories) feel worse about their own births, and it is never my intention to make someone feel badly. If you need warning to avoid pain, here it is, but I also hope that you will consider (if this applies to you) really, honestly confronting your birth experience in order to find a path towards healing. Moreover, I have hesitated to share my birth stories out of fear that doing so would leave the impression that I am focused on myself rather than on my clients and their own experiences.
Today, that changes. Primarily, I do not want to be a person motivated by fear. Instead, I have faith that my story will serve a purpose greater than I can even understand, because God works in crazy ways. I have faith that God will use my story and also yours, no matter how different it is than my own. And while I don’t know everything, I have lived long enough to witness how healing birth can be, and how powerful other’s testimonies through birth can be. You may read this story and gain nothing but a few laughs, and that is perfectly fine. If you gain more, awesome. In any case, I share it with you compulsively; it has been a joy to do so with my friends and family ever since this crazy event happened. Now, without further ado, I present the birth of Thaddeus Gil. We did not know his gender until Saturday, August 6th, at 5:15am. Many other details of his story also surprised us. Here is what happened:
It all began Friday morning, with irregular, brief, mild cramps. I paid little attention to them, though. . August in south Florida is pretty hot, so the cramps were likely related to my struggle to stay hydrated. Besides, there was the stress of a busy day. I had been up since 5:30 am when my daughter would not go back to sleep, and had my kids’ swim lessons later in the morning, followed by an outdoor fundraiser for which I would volunteer for several hours in the afternoon. Surely it was not real labor when my estimated date of delivery was not until the next Wednesday, (particularly when you consider I have always birthed after my due date in the past — up to 12 days afterwards, in fact). Nevertheless, I knew the timing of birth is really up to God. I told no one what I was experiencing because I did not want to start a fuss over nothing.
It seemed these cramps were getting a little stronger at the fundraiser, so I casually mentioned it to my husband, Rob. I asked him to take a bump photo, just in case it was one of our last chances. I started to breathe through what I know now were contractions, but they still did not command much of my energy.
We got home around 9pm, with a zillion unfinished projects and chores staring me in the eye, and our overtired children sobbing that they wanted me to be the one to get them to sleep that night. I felt scatterbrained and tense. How could I put things away around our home, meet the requests of my older children, and labor? Besides, they worried, if the baby was born overnight, would they miss the birth that they also had been preparing for? I assured them I would send my doula, Mindy, or Rob to wake them when the baby was about to be born.
Then I climbed in bed with them, and somehow read their entire bedtime story without any contractions, though I had a long one as soon as I was finished with their book. I breathed deeply through it, and while my son passed out for the night, my incredible three year old daughter breathed deeply with me through the contraction. It was as if someone had taught her how to be my doula. Lying there with them was sweet, but uncomfortable. The space felt too confining for me to open my legs, which was the intuitive thing to do while in labor. I tried propping a pillow between my knees, which simply was not enough, and then had Rob inflate my peanut ball. Placing the peanut ball between my legs was much more satisfying.
After they both were asleep, I kissed them on their foreheads and got busy trying to clean things around the home. I was feeling overwhelmed, as I realized it would be impossible to get all of my tasks done before I would have to stop and surrender all of my resources to the labor. Though the intensity of my contractions still felt manageable to me without help from anyone, I called my doula over the stress that I felt from my home’s condition — with the birth pool still packaged in our garage, coffee bar not set up for the birth team, power tools and a ladder occupying my laundry room, and craft supplies littering my dining room from a little party we’d had on Thursday, plus laundry, dishes, and dog hair everywhere. All of these things were invading my birth space. I could not just leave it behind and take a vacation to the hospital, nor did I really want to. We had planned and invested for this birth to take place at our home, and short of a medical reason for transferring to the hospital, home was where we would stay.
Mindy came over, in good spirits, probably around eleven o’clock. She helped track the length of my contractions and gave me wonderful hip squeezes with each one. We chatted some, and she pitched in around the house however we asked her to. I was relieved for her to be with us, yet still felt tension between the needs of my home and the needs of my body.
I could no longer do chores through the contractions, though I did not waste a second between them. I spent a few contractions sitting on the birth ball, and a few leaning against a counter, chair, or sofa, but for the most part, dropped to all fours when I felt the tightening. Something about having my weight suspended on all of my limbs seemed to keep me from feeling less tension in my hands and shoulders. Besides, I reasoned, it gave the baby maximum space for moving around and descending.
In the midst of all this harried laboring, I felt a wave of nausea. I was drawn to the toilet, which I then realized had not been cleaned in nearly two weeks. That fact (keeping in mind my young children are not experts at hitting the target or cleaning up after themselves), along with the fact that my senses in labor are heightened, made the bathroom feel repulsive to me. Thankfully, the nausea subsided, and I resumed housework.
Mindy suggested I call my midwives at this point. Although I had felt nausea and was definitely choosing labor positions indicative of active labor, I still reasoned it was fairly early because I was running around the house getting jobs done between contractions and had no bloody show or amniotic fluid leaking. The contractions were about 5 minutes apart, but that didn’t mean anything to me, with my history. My labor with my son was comprised of multiple days of contractions that were 5 minutes apart, and with my daughter, the contractions were still 10 minutes apart right up until pushing. However, it was about midnight, and seemed like a courtesy to at least let them know that labor had begun. So I called in and was relieved to hear Cynda on the line. I would have been really happy no matter which of my wonderful midwives was on call, but Cynda was one of my favorites! She listened to me breathing through a contraction and made me give her phone number to Mindy for continued check-ins. We promised to let her know if anything changed, and I told her to have a nice nap in the meantime! Of course, remembering the long births of my older children, I imagined it would still be a very long time before the baby’s arrival.
Regardless, I got things ready for the birth team to come over. Rob and Mindy were already here, of course, plus there would be two midwives, and my photographer friend, Hannah, who I had hired to document the birth. My mother was the only one who did not know I was in labor yet, but I assumed she would probably come over at some point, either to tend to my children or just because she is my mother. She was, after all, present at my own birth and my older children’s births, so I felt some sense of obligation to invite her to be there. In total, I was counting 6 adults (not including myself) who might need caffeine pick-ups throughout the night or morning. I put water and a filter in the coffee maker, when out of nowhere, we got a visitor!
It was none other than my least favorite Florida resident — the American Cockroach. I screamed! I leapt! Rob left his job of filling the birth pool to hunt down the intruder and introduce him to death, and I spent the next few minutes half crying and half laughing over the irony of it all.
What the heck was this circus? I really wanted my home to be more orderly and clean before the baby was born, but if I was honest, a lot of my motivation came from the fact that people were coming over, and I wanted to make a good impression! I felt like I was playing the hostess role. I looked up at the stained and bubbling paint on the ceiling of my dining room, which experienced a leak from the upstairs bathroom earlier in the week. Our contractor fixed the leak but planned his return to repair the ceiling after the weekend. So I was in the most embarrassing situation as a hostess, and now roaches were here. I turned to Mindy and laughed, “this is what you get with home birth, I guess.” She replied, “more peppermint oil,” which was hilarious because earlier in the evening, Mindy had offered me a variety to essential oils to diffuse throughout the home, and I selected peppermint for its uplifting and calming qualities, but had remarked that I had heard it was a repellant to roaches, too. Whatever! The contractions that came immediately after the roach were, unsurprisingly, the most closely paced contractions of my entire labor.
I realized I was going to have to give up on my fantasy of a perfect home for our home birth. The baby was not going to care what our house looked like, but more than likely would want a mother who would be present for him or her. I decided to just finish the coffee bar and then try to get some rest, but while I went back to the kitchen, the nausea returned.
Mindy ran to bring me a bowl, into which I hurled every bit of the pad thai that I’d had for supper. It came in such a thrust that I lost my continence, also. I gave Mindy instructions to bring me new panties, after she had asked if I was sure that I wanted panties at all (since loss of modesty is a normal sign of labor progress). She came back with my new knickers to find me scrubbing the floor where the bowl had not been enough to catch my vomit.
I don’t remember precisely what Mindy said at that moment, but it was something along the lines of, “it’s an old tradition in many cultures that women scrub all their floors right before their babies are born.” I had no words in response. My mind was thinking, “well, um, I don’t want to bring my baby into a home that has vomit on the floor, so I guess that makes sense.” I threw away the towelettes I was holding, and decided I’d had enough. There would be no more cleaning, organizing, and hiding of our life’s chaos. It was just going to be.
I retreated to the sofa, propping the peanut ball between my legs again, and had Rob turn my labor playlist on, asking if he could skip past all the peppy songs like Gratfeul Dead’s Ripple and just leave me with the lullaby paced instrumental hymns. After he did this, he resumed filling the birth pool.
The next hours were quite dreamy. Lying down caused my body’s labor to slow down. I tried not to overthink this fact, not knowing whether this was a sign that I still had a very long way to go or that it meant I was merely a lucky mom to have such nice long breaks between my contractions. I assumed the former, and suggested that Mindy take a nap while she could, so she went upstairs to an empty bed. I remained on the sofa, resting in the bliss of stillness. I knew I should switch the side I was lying on from time to time, in order to facilitate the baby’s descent, but I did not rush my switching from one side to another. I rose from the sofa only a couple times, and just to use the bathroom (to poop… which is not something I would ordinarily tell people I’m doing, but it’s worth recognizing that the normal physiology of birth basically dictates every woman will do this in labor).
Rob brought me water between contractions, and held my hand when he was not filling the birth pool. My hand seemed to be holding tension, and I felt that if I had his hand to grip, I could more easily get through the contraction. At times though, he was not by my side (because I kept him busy with all the tasks that I was ignoring), and it occurred to me that a better approach would be to let go of the tension I held in my hands altogether. I knew how to do that!
As the contractions came, I chose to make a long, deep vocalization, not too unlike the “om” sound that yogis claim to be the sound of creation. It was worth a shot anyway! I hesitate to call this sound a moan, but like wolves and lions, I am a mammal, so maybe moan is an apt term. The well-mannered, pinterest-inspired susie homemaker in me felt uneasy making this somewhat unladylike sound, but as long as I was by myself, it was actually a fun and liberating thing to do. The really amazing thing, too, is that it actually works! For me, at least, it worked way better than mere deep breathing. I could sustain a low vocalization for about three times as long as I could sustain a good, traditional exhale, and best of all, when I made my sound, in a very deep way, I truly felt no tension anywhere in my body.
I don’t think Mindy was really able to sleep upstairs all this time, whether because of my sounds or because she is attentive and caring, I’m not sure. She came down after an hour perhaps (I never looked at a clock the whole night, so I can’t say for sure). At times throughout the night, I could hear her in another room on the phone with Cynda, updating her on my progress and always emphasizing that I was “coping gracefully.” Listen everyone, if you ever hire a doula, this is about the most important thing: that she hears moaning and calls it graceful. I love her. Anyway, when Mindy came by my side, she massaged my lower back, hips, and feet. Everything felt magical and good. I felt so relaxed that I was certain the actual birth had to be a long way off, so I told my hardworking husband to go up and take a nap while he could.
It was not too long before I felt a tiny drip between my legs. I was too relaxed to care about getting up immediately to see whether it was amniotic fluid or bloody show, but I knew either way it was a sign of progress, and guessed it was bloody show, since I’d never had a slow leak of amniotic fluid in the past. I mentioned it to Mindy, and then labored on in my reposed state. (I learned on my next bathroom break that it was indeed bloody show.)
While I was lying down, I noticed the baby’s kicks felt lower in my abdomen at one point, and later noted that I could feel kicks near my hips. Either the baby had flipped to breech or the baby was descending, and since I had not felt any big flips, I felt assured that things were going just the way they were supposed to.
My legs began to tremble just the slightest bit. Shaking and trembling are classic signs of “transition,” or the period when a mother’s cervix dilates from 8 centimeters to 10. Ordinarily, transition is a brief period of labor, and for most women is the most challenging stage of the whole labor. With my previous two labors, however, I trembled for hours, and not just mildly in my legs… it was more like my whole body shaking. I told Mindy how I felt a little trembly, and for my peace of mind would prefer that Cynda to come over now, just in case this was really transition. She was happy to oblige, and after her call to Cynda fetched me some honey to give me a boost in energy.
The honey was delicious. I had a spoonful, or maybe two, and felt so wonderful taking it. The taste lingering in my mouth reminded me of the day that this honey was given to me, nearly two weeks before, at a blessingway that Mindy hosted for me. Each of the dear ladies at the blessingway passed the honey around the room, sharing good intentions and blessings for me as they held this jar of honey. When it reached me and I made my own blessing for myself, I thought about how all of these women and their wisdom and love would be present with me during the labor. I felt so uplifted, blessed and empowered when I consumed it.
In what felt like seconds after the honey, I felt the unmistakable urge to push. It was exactly as it was supposed to feel… just like an urge to move my bowels. For a moment, I lost my composure. I was so stunned that this was happening right now. My husband was asleep, along with the children. My midwife had just been summoned a few minutes ago, and had many miles on the road before she would be here. Thinking I would contact Hannah after Cynda checked me to make sure I was in solid active labor, I had not called her since around 9 or 10pm. It was now after 5am. Here I was now, with a coffee and snack bar set up for a party, and the only person present, as I was about to push, was my doula.
“Would you like to get in the pool?” Mindy asked. My husband had devoted much of his evening to this pool that occupied our living room. From moving furniture aside to watching youtube videos on how to assemble to pool, and then setting it up and filling it, I obviously hated to see all of his work go to waste. More importantly, I had wanted to birth in the pool with my other children’s labors, and was denied the opportunity by my former midwives when that moment arrived. I had delayed getting in the pool for much of this current labor, thinking that if I put it off until the end, I would finally get my chance! “Yes,” I told Mindy. “But first I want to pee.”
Of course. I’ve heard it said that urine is sterile, but you know, it just kind of grosses me out to think of people peeing in pools, and into this particular pool, my precious child was going to be born (so I thought, at least). I would not pee in my birth pool. The end.
As I went to the bathroom, Mindy ran upstairs to try to wake Rob. She came back alone, but I urged her to go back, adding to call Hannah also. “I don’t know how much longer I have,” I said. She tried again to wake Rob, shaking his entire body, but he slept on. She did not have Hannah’s phone number, but at this point, there was not even enough time to call her.
There was no time to walk back to the birth pool in my living room, either. I was in this powder room for the grand debut, whether I liked it or not. The “ring of fire” was here.
“Help! Help!” I hollered. I honestly did not feel like I myself or my baby were endangered, except for the fact that I was standing over a toilet that had not been cleaned for 2 weeks and where my vomit had been flushed down earlier this evening. What if my baby fell in this toilet?! I mean, here I am, having what must be a smooth, uncomplicated delivery, and I have truly felt capable, comfortable, and fairly calm the entire time. I have a profound amount of energy, for all of the work my body has apparently done. I was completely standing on my own two feet, and felt no need for anyone to help hold my body up (which is far different than how I felt at the end of my other labors). I had felt the entire time like I could continue laboring for much longer, if need be, but time was not my luxury right now. I was stunned by how suddenly this was really happening. Having spent my thoughts of the evening comparing this labor to my others, I wondered, had I lied to myself about my progress this whole time? If so, it had now caught up with me, because my entire team, except for Mindy, was not here.
Mindy was unfazed by my brief panic. In retrospect, she even said that she never sensed any fear through my entire labor. Maybe I didn’t convey any fear to her in my moment of calling for help. In any case, she realized that my husband would miss this moment, so she had her phone’s video camera turned on and pointed towards me, and placed her hand where the baby’s head had now emerged. I have no recollection of what words came out of her mouth, but I remember they were merely her normal, calm tone of voice. It was all I needed in that moment.
As I placed my own hands on the baby’s head, she removed her hand and gave me total control of the descent. I deliberately attempted not to push. We call second stage of labor “pushing,z’ but I feel for sure now that there is very little to no pushing effort required except by the uterus itself, which, like my heart’s beat, eyelids’ blinking, and lungs’ breathing, is regulated by the autonomic nervous system. This felt so different than my hospital births, where I had by my own effort and with much coaching and cheerleading from a room full of spectators and professionals tried so hard, so hard, to push my children out. In those births, I assumed the coaches knew better than my own body, and the experience had been frustrating and confusing with so many voices surrounding me. Now, instead of focusing on pushing, I was focused on coping and breathing, and of course, not letting my precious offspring fall in the toilet!
In that moment before the shoulders came forth, I felt this precious head in this precious moment. My child was living between two worlds in this instant. It was about the most surreal thing I’ve ever witnessed, and without a doubt is the very instance that unites every birthing woman in the world, whether she delivers through surgery, under medication, or over the toilet without a care provider in sight. I’m sure this between-two-worlds moment lasted less than one minute, but there was something eternal and timeless about it; I tried to soak it in. The head did not feel as I expected it to. It was bumpier, and I could see why: a hand rested sweetly on the side of this child’s face. It was also hardly bloody at all, and the translucent fabric of the amniotic sac encased everything I could see. It was so magical! It was slippery, too. God, help me to not let this baby slip in the toilet, I thought!
With that mission in my mind, I focused all I had into a final deep vocalization, and watched this baby’s tiny but perfect body slide forth. In the video that Mindy took on her phone, you hear a splash at this instant, but it was not the baby falling in the toilet (praise God)! It was the bag of water breaking, and subsequently falling in the toilet. I was elated beyond words and was bawling hysterically. I caught my baby with my own two hands, and saw the fluids from his lungs rush out of his mouth and nose. He instantly released a loud cry. His skin was perfectly pink! His cord was wrapped around his body, though not in any constricting way. I finally saw the gender — a boy!
Mindy, still as calm as could be, sweetly congratulated me, and ran upstairs to try to wake Rob for a third time. He came down, bewildered that his baby had arrived while he was asleep. Giving birth before the midwives arrived was one of his fears, which we had addressed multiple times in our prenatal appointments and childbirth class, but as far as I could tell, Rob was unworried now as I kept crying out how perfect and beautiful this child was. Per my request, they grabbed my bowl for the placenta (because my next fear was the placenta landing in the toilet, and I had plans to consume that precious thing).
I was, for the most part, immobilized with joy, still just weeping uncontrollably as I stood over the toilet, admiring the goodness of this healthy little child and his healthy birth. At this point, I think Mindy called the midwives to update them on what they missed and to seek instructions on what to do from here. They redirected me from the bathroom. I asked if I could lay down in bed, and they laughed that no, I was not going to climb the stairs until after I birthed the placenta. They arranged chux pads on the sofa and helped me lay down with the baby until the midwives arrived.
Hannah soon showed up, thanks to Rob calling her, and she immediately got to work capturing photos. Cynda then arrived, with one of my other midwives, Tammy, and they wiped the baby clean and monitored what remained of my third stage of labor. The umbilical cord still pulsed when they made it to our home, though not for too long. They clamped the cord, had Rob cut it, and then everyone guided me up the stairs to recover in bed.
I required about 4 stitches for a barely first degree tear, resulting from scar tissue of my previous sutures. The fact that the baby emerged with his hand on his head probably didn’t help, either, but there was no controlling that. Though I would have preferred not tearing, I knew that my odds were higher because of my scar tissue, and was pretty happy that of all three births, my perineum was most intact from this one. Ultimately, I was thrilled to know that I had been in control of the baby’s descent, and my own intuition guided him out, rather than the interventions — even “gentle” or “helpful” ones as perineal massage, stretching, or counter pressure — that care providers often claim will prevent tearing. I know better now. God designed birth perfectly!
Tammy and Cynda watched the video Mindy took to make notes in their charts about the birth, when Tammy noticed that the baby had been born completely en caul. “You know what this means? Your baby was completely protected through the entire birth,” Tammy stated in awe.
This may not matter much to most parents, but it was significant to those of us in the room. See, I had tested positive in late pregnancy for a strain of bacteria called “Group B Strep” (GBS). Although as many as a third of women are carriers of the bacteria, it is really rare for the baby to become infected by GBS. However, when infection occurs, the consequences can be very serious, and we knew very personally how. One of Tammy’s own children was a miracle survivor of GBS, as were both Rob and me. I’m not sure what the odds are of three closely-affected GBS people being in the same room are, but surely they are slim. We had no plans to take chances with GBS and the potentially life threatening, brain deforming infection it causes in babies. When I got a positive result in my other pregnancies, it was one of our incentives to waste no time going to the hospital for labor; we insisted on getting the antibiotics that have been proven to reduce the odds of GBS infection. If I’d had any clue that my labor this time had been going so swiftly, I certainly would have called Cynda to come sooner so she could administer antibiotics to me this time, also. I am not even a fan of antibiotics normally; penicillin during my labors are the only incidents I can recall in my adult life of seeking antibiotics. So when Tammy explained that because of my membranes remaining intact through the entire pushing stage (something that happens in as few as 1 out of every 800,000 births), my newborn had even better protection than if I had received the antibiotics, I was amazed and extremely grateful.
My gratitude was compounded by the fact that this was the first of my labors in which care providers did not break my bag of waters for me. In my first labor, I was not offered a choice to do otherwise. In my second labor, I was given a choice a choice about having my water broken, but it was not a fully informed choice. Knowing what I know now — that artificial rupture of membranes (AROM) carried more risks than I previously realized and that there is a possibility for babies to be born en caul if we avoid AROM — I imagine I would go back, were it possible, and make a different decision. Well-meaning and educated as my former midwives were, I still felt like something had been taken from me in the experience of my natural labor process being intervened upon.
Labor, though it may only be one day of our parenting journey, is a powerful opportunity to leave a mother and father feeling equipped and capable for the work of caring for their children, through each challenging wave and stage that childrearing brings. I felt like this labor experience, more than my others, left me feeling able, triumphant, and well. No person on my team — from the midwives on the phone, to my doula, to my husband and even photographer — ever conveyed an ounce of doubt to me. I felt that all the information I could need to make good decisions in labor was either already passed on to us, or was within our reach through these people. Ultimately, what our team did for us was hold space. They were a safety net — available and supportive — yet they fully trusted and allowed my body to do the all of the work that was necessary. Even in the privacy of my birth experience — with my doula the only person physically present — I had a context of wise and humble care providers who revered the perfect plan God devised for pregnancy and birth.
Mindy, in addition to being a doula and massage therapist, teaches a Kundalini Yoga class in my neighborhood. One of the yogic terms I learned from her this year is “Wahe Guru.” “What does that mean?” I remember asking her in the last trimester of my pregnancy. She lit up as she explained to me that this mantra expresses the indescribable majesty of God.
I have now typed thousands of words describing my third birth experience, and still, I feel like Lord Byron writing of his love for the wild mystery of the universe: “I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.” Wahe Guru seems like the most apt way to summarize the profundity of birth, and perhaps, life itself. Going through my labor felt in may ways like standing before the vast unknown of the ocean’s shore or pathless woods. The recurring waves and the need to merely get through this experience were predictable, but little else was. One year later, I look back and still recall a certain whimsy, beauty and comfort in the miracle of it all, and maybe even a divine touch of humor, because I knew that in the sanctity of this intimate little powder room, I was not unattended in my birth. I had the maker of heavens, earth, and sea with me too. He made the universe and everything in it, and then decided to make Thaddeus Gil, too.
(As a side note, one of my midwives, Maya, told me after the birth that many a baby has survived the toilet, as well as vomit.)