I was planning an Unassisted Childbirth.
What is Unassisted Childbirth (UC), you ask? It's a home birth without a home birth midwife in attendance. Or any other medical professional for that matter.
You're probably thinking I'm crazy about now. Let me tell you how I got to this point.
I've wanted to have a home birth for a long time. Since before Little Brother was born. We couldn't afford it then, so we opted to birth at the birthing center where we'd had The Princess. It had been a pleasant experience (we joke that it's like staying at a five star hotel). I was able to have a natural birth with Little Brother, and felt like I had fulfilled my desire to know that I was capable of giving birth without medication.
This time around, we again interviewed all the home birth midwives in the county (all two of them), and were set on having a home birth. There was one midwife I could maybe see myself connecting with, and we began to consider hiring her. As I was weighing the financial cost, the mediocre connection I'd had with the midwife, and doing some research online on home births, I came across Unassisted Childbirth. I'd never heard of this! You mean people actually do this nowadays?!? In America?!?! At first, it freaked me out a bit. What if something went wrong? What if...the cord was wrapped around the baby's neck....what if I hemorrhage?...what if I tear?...
In order to have the safest possible birth for me and my baby, I must birth in a hospital, and submit the responsibility of my child's birth to the medical professionals who "know what they're doing", right?
And then I started researching.
I discovered that statistically, it is safer to birth a child at home than in a hospital. I also discovered that America has the second highest hospital birth infant mortality rate in the developed world. So, if I want to increase the chances of my child dying, I would birth in a hospital. This seems like it can't be true. But it is. Additionally, America has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world. That's not a statistic I want to join.
As The Hot Contractor and I started to read books on Unassisted Childbirth, and Emergency Childbirth in preparation, we felt this amazing feeling of empowerment. We were taking back the responsibility of our birth. Of my body. Of my child's entrance into the world. I was not going to be told to lay flat on my back (the most uncomfortable and WORST position to give birth in). I was not going to be told that my long labor had a medical term of "Failure to Progress", and that I therefore needed a C-section. Before medical intervention, women often had labors that lasted three or four days. They also were often pregnant for more than 40 weeks. Left to nature, forty-three or forty-four weeks is not an uncommon length of pregnancy. And I didn't want to be told that going past my due date required that I have an induction.
I wanted to trust myself. My body. God. He made my body capable of doing this. If not, then how did people for centuries get here? If so, then, why was I not trusting Him?
Birth itself is not inherently dangerous. How is it that God can create systems in our body that work so perfectly....the respiratory system, the digestive system. He can make it possible that a sperm and an egg can create a person, but had no good plan for how to get that person out? I just can't believe that.
Along the way in our journey to discover UC, The Hot Contractor and I started to feel like this was something that should be done with just us two present. This whole pregnancy began as an intimate expression of our love, and we wanted to finish it in that same intimate way....a culmination of the process we had been through over these last nine months. We also wanted the most peaceful experience for our child to be brought into the world. I didn't want strangers telling me what to do, or sweeping my child away to check him for something (most of which is entirely unnecessary). The more I learned, the more I wanted to be in control of my birth experience, and not submit myself, or my child, to unnecessary medical intervention.
I also learned that the reason so many women experience pain is because of things that intervene in our birth experiences. These can be internal (fear), or external (strangers present, a sterile hospital environment, medical interventions, etc.). I figured if I didn't put myself in an environment that was uncomfortable, but made the most peaceful, comfortable place possible, then at least I was eliminating the external factor. Now to work on the internal: fear. I'll be honest, I have had a lot of fear about childbirth in the past. I was terrified with my first pregnancy, not knowing what to expect. With my second pregnancy, I knew what to expect, but I was pretty afraid to do it naturally (which I was committed to after researching the effects of medicated births on an infant). I did it, but experienced a lot of pain (probably because of my high level of fear). This time, I wanted to let go of my fear. I wasn't naive enough to think that I would have a completely painless birth, but I did think I would manage it much better having less fear. And going in, I was pretty fearless. I knew that fear would make my body have a fight or flight reaction, and that blood would stop flowing to my uterus, which would, in turn, cause me to have pain. I didn't want that.
The Hot Contractor and I started watching UC birth videos on YouTube (I dare you to do it). This one made me completely convinced that this whole "pain free childbirth" thing was not made up! It's really possible! (Warning...there is nudity). We also let our kids watch the videos. The Princess became a bit obsessed with watching birth videos for about a month leading up to Baby Brother's birth. At one point, I asked her if she wanted to watch Baby Brother be born. She said she didn't.
So, ya, maybe people have gotten here for centuries, but also, "a lot more babies used to die"...one of the responses people reacted to our news with. But, as Laura Shanley writes about, there were reasons for this. Poverty is one of them....poor living conditions, lack of food. If a woman is not well-nourished, she will have a harder time giving birth. There is also documentation that there are many tribes around the world where women give birth painlessly, quickly, and without incident. In developed countries, 100 years ago, women were corseted from early adolescence. This caused them to have narrow pelvic bones, and therefore, pain in childbirth. All this to say that there were reasons that babies used to die more. And they aren't because we now have hospitals, and we didn't before.
Here are some fears/reactions/responses I heard from the few people I told about my UC early on. And here are the things I had learned that diminished my fears:
What if you tear?
Well, first of all, without a medical professional telling me when I have to push (which happened with my first two births, when I tore), I knew if I just let my body do what it needed to do, and push when I felt ready to push, I'd have a lot less chance of tearing. It turns out, during this birth, that's what I did. And I didn't tear. If I had torn, I learned that laying with my legs together (or just not opening them more than necessary) for a few days would heal any tears I had. I'm laying low, and being very sensitive to my body's signals. I never knew how dilated or progressed I was, and didn't care to learn how to check myself because I just wanted to pay attention to my body, and let it tell me when it was ready. And it worked!
What if the baby's cord is around the neck?
About 30% of babies are born with the cord around the neck (including Baby Brother). It is not a medical emergency, contrary to popular belief. Babies are getting their oxygen from the cord, but unless it is tied tightly around the neck (two or three times, or is an unusually short cord), it won't cut off the blood flow to the baby. Once the baby is out, it can be easily undone. And at that point, the baby starts breathing, and getting oxygen that way, so it's not important.
What if you hemorrhage?
I'll admit it, this was the thing I had the hardest time getting over my fear of. I knew that if I bled more than two cups, I should go to the hospital. But knowing what two cups of blood looked like was hard. I also knew that if I felt faint or dizzy, or passed out, that I should be taken to the hospital immediately. I armed myself with every natural anti-hemorrhaging tool possible. Herbs, homeopathy, eating a chunk of my placenta, breast feeding immediately after birth, not letting anyone pull on the placenta to get it out, but just letting it come out naturally... I still had a fear of leaving my children motherless. I prayed a lot about this, and really just had to let it go. People can hemorrhage and die for up to two weeks after they give birth. I know that I must just be really careful, give my body a break, and not push it too much. So far, so good. I'm still here. The only things they would have done at the hospital are give me a shot of Pitocin (which I tried to acquire unsuccessfully), or a blood transfusion. I decided that this risk was not worth going to a hospital or birthing center to give birth. Percentage-wise, hemorrhaging is not a high risk. And most women who die from hemorrhaging die after bleeding for hours...not minutes. If bleeding was an issue, we'd go in as soon as we knew, and do all we could to stop it. Plus, being in a hospital doesn't mean I wouldn't die anyway if I hemorrhaged. There's still a chance of that happening.
While we were still living in Oroville, The Hot Contractor and I planned to UC in the bedroom at the house we were at. We bought a large pool for birthing, and were set. Then we decided to hit the road in the RV before the birth, so that threw a little curve-ball into the situation. Plan-A was over. On to Plan B...
We decided to bring the pool with us, and set it up under the awning of the RV. We brought an outdoor rug for comfort on our feet, some twinkle lights to hang on the awning, a wood stove for heat and to boil water for the pool, a large stock of firewood. We were set! I mean, the property where we were planning on staying is a secluded, 25-acre wooded property. We'd be off in some corner of the property, birthing in private, right?
Then we arrived on Thanksgiving day. The landlord told us where he wanted us to park: right in front of his 84-year-old, blind mother's house. Like two feet from her bedroom window. Because her eyesight is lacking, her hearing is really good! I just couldn't subject this poor woman to my laboring moans. Surely she'd hear them, and I'm not sure how she'd react. So, we had to come up with Plan C.
My in-laws live about two miles from where we have the RV parked. They have a large bathtub in their master bedroom, and we thought this might be a good option. So, we let them in on our secret plan to UC, and asked if we could birth at their house. They were really supportive, and open to the idea. So, Plan C was a go!
Then a few days later, they started feeling nervous that their landlord might find out and evict them. They've had some issues with their landlord, and didn't want to push the envelope. We understood. So, we moved on to Plan D.
We decided to have our birth at a resort just a few miles from where we're staying. It's a beautiful, beachfront resort with spa suites that have huge, two-person tubs. Oh, and ocean views. I went and toured the spa suites, and was SO excited about giving birth there! I'd read a few stories online of other mamas who'd birthed in hotels when they couldn't, or didn't want to birth at home. And if this hotel was booked the night I went into labor, I had three other ones in line that had large tubs. (Did I mention that birthing in water was very important to me? I believe it's God's epidural, being in water. I did it with Little Brother's birth, and felt sooo much better laboring that way).
Then, I went into labor on New Years Eve. We called all the hotels on our list, and every.single.one. of them was sold out. Darnit! What was I going to do? We thought about our options at this point. The RV, or the birthing center. After going through this whole process over the last nine months, there was just no way I could bring myself to going to the birthing center. So, the RV it was!
Baby Brother's Arrival
I woke up from contractions at about 1:00 in the morning on January 1st (1-1-11). I waited until I was sure I was in labor, then got up to tell The Hot Contractor. He was still up watching movies (poor guy didn't get any sleep that night), and I told him I was pretty sure I was in labor. He called his mom to come over and sleep with the kids. Then he got the bed ready with plastic under the sheet, then towels, and puppy pads on top. I labored around while doing things between contractions...lighting candles, getting my herbs and homeopathy out and ready...etc. Here's me laboring.
The kids and grandma woke up about 6:00. Things were starting to get more intense for me. Little Brother was really wanting mama snuggles (typical morning thing), so I leaned on their loft with each contraction, and held hands with kiddos between contractions. I was really surprised that they were not phased by my laboring moans. I really thought they'd be scared, or cry, or want mommy. Nothing of the sort. They watched, and asked Daddy why I was making those noises. We told them that I wasn't hurt, and that it was how Baby Brother was coming out. They were so excited to meet their Baby Brother!
Sometime in the seven o'clock hour, I got on the bed, on all fours. This was the best position to be in when I birthed Little Brother, so I thought it'd be great. It wasn't. I tried lots of different positions, and just went with what felt the most comfortable. Sometimes that was laying on my left side with my leg up in the air. Sometimes it was standing up and leaning hard on my left hip. Not sure why it felt better on the left, other than there was more room on my left side. Baby Brother had been on my right side my whole pregnancy, and I thought maybe he still was. I was in transition for about 45 minutes. Eventually, I felt like I needed to get on my hands and knees. So I did. I started feeling the urge to push, so I went with it. The whole time, I was really working on letting go of my fears. My mantra was that "God made my body to do this. My body knows how to do this. I was created to do this." I knew I could do this. It definitely wasn't pain free, but before I hit transition, it was pretty painless. It was intense, but not painful. Transition,on the other hand, was painful.
Once I started pushing, it was only five or ten minutes before Baby Brother was out. I remember asking The Hot Contractor if he could see anything, and he said "no". Then, at the next contraction, he said, "you totally just opened up!" The Princess was standing on his right, and Little Brother was on his left. All three of them were eagerly awaiting the first glimpse of our newest family member. One more contraction, and The Hot Contractor said, "I see his head!" I went with the urge to push (I remembered reading in the Unassisted Childbirth book to "do nothing", and your body will do what it needs to do...so I kept telling myself to "do nothing".). My body pushed hard, and his head popped out. The Hot Contractor (my AMAZING midhusband) was talking to me, telling me what he could see, that Baby Brother was ok, that his head was out, but his chin was still in there a little. My body pushed again, and his head came out all the way. A couple more pushes, and his body slid out, into his Daddy's arms. The Princess, Little Brother, and The Hot Contractor held him there while I turned over to lay down and hold him. A few minutes later, the placenta came out, and we were all in Newborn Heaven.
Welcome Baby Brother! Named after my brother who died in 2009.
Born on 1/1/11 at 8:22 am.
10 lb, 7 oz (we bought a baby scale on eBay so that we could weigh him...I know you were wondering how we knew how much he weighed).
And congratulations if you read this whole blog! Whew!
(For a cool documentary on hospital and home births in America, check out The Business of Being Born. It was done by Ricky Lake.)
UPDATE! In July 2012, I was interviewed on the radio show, Preggie Pals about my UC. You can hear the interview here.