Let me start with the following: If you’re pregnant, you might want to skip this post. That said, it was a lesson for me and might be for you if you find yourself in a similar situation.
When I was taking our Hynobirthing birth prep classes, we learned that it’s best to only listen to positive and happy birth stories. In fact, we were given a pin to wear that said, “Only happy stories please. My baby is listening.” It makes sense. The last thing any pregnant woman needs to hear is yet another hard or sad or terrifying birth story (depictions in ALL movies are already bad enough), as these will cause fear, which will impede labor. After all, I knew from reading and YouTube that not all births are painful. It is possible to have one without pain. Heck, some women orgasm with it! Especially birthing at home, right? The ability to walk around, wear my own clothes or be buck naked if I want. Eat, drink, dance, etc. A pain-free birth, although rare, may be possible. And a low-pain birth is also possible.
In telling my story, I don’t want to turn pregnant ladies off because I think the story is still a good one. Good not only because I have a healthy and happy baby, but also good because I learned a lot that might be useful for expecting moms.
Not every part of the story is good and happy — my total labor from start to finish was about 31 hours, and almost nothing went as planned. Here we go…
Everyone, who follows my blog, knows I planned a homebirth. “Plan” is the operative word here. Actually, even though that was my first choice for my birth, my birth plan also included a backup plan in the event I needed to transfer to the hospital (with separate plans for hospital vaginal and C-section deliveries). I wanted my desires known in any situation. I tried to imagine all of the major scenarios, and documented my preferences ahead of time, so that I would not be forced to make difficult decisions under the duress of labor or in an emergency.
The first signs of labor began a full ten days after Kamea’s expected due date. It was Thursday evening, 8pm. I was at my mom’s watching TV, when I started dripping water. It wasn’t a gush of water, just some dribble. The dribble came every 20-30 minutes and I’d have to change my clothes. I wasn’t feeling any contractions, but Greg and I decided that we should start the 45-minute drive home because it looked like things were finally going to start happening. As we drove home, I started to feel small, light contractions, which I timed. I texted my midwife and she told me to time them for an hour and see how many I had. When an hour had passed, it was around 10pm and I had about 10. My midwife said I was in pre-labor and told me to get some rest. But, heck, it was hard to rest with all of the excitement… after so much waiting, my baby would be here soon! Not to mention, the contractions kept coming. They were easy to get through however.
By 1am, I was having 16 contractions per hour, at which point my midwife said she was on her way. I called my mom and doula and they headed over as well.
I continued to labor, and labor, and labor… it wasn’t too bad either. Kind of fun actually. We had the lights off except for the soft orange glow of the salt lamp. I had my soft ambient birth music playing. It was lovely. In addition to my husband, I had a whole crew of women there to assist me: My mom, mom-in-law (a retired nurse), Shell my midwife, Shell’s business partner midwife, an apprentice midwife, Leigh my doula, and Leigh’s business partner doula who is studying to become a midwife. There was a houseful of professionals. Greg called them my “tribe” and said the village men should be standing outside the palisade with spears to keep the lions away. (In the absence of lions, he took pictures.)
It was awesome being home and surrounded by so much experience, knowledge, and love. But in hindsight, I’m not sure it was best to have so many people attending my birth. I seemed to enjoy it at the time, but I wonder if having so many eyes on me was a little unnerving and possibly delayed my labor. Despite this, there were times it was great. Fun even, like a slumber party. At one point, my midwife had to leave to tend another birth, and it was fine because I had the others there to support me.
I remember being excited for everyone to arrive… I thought it was going to be a like a fun party — we had all kinds of food and chairs and pillows — but I noticed that my labor slowed down once it wasn’t just Greg, my mom and myself. I have read many times that this can happen in the hospital because of the bright lights, rotation of doctors and nurses, etc. But, I didn’t expect it with my own birth team, in my own home. It did though, at least for a little while my contractions slowed.
The hours started getting longer. And longer. And longer… and before I knew it…. many hours had passed. The leaking had started twelve hours before, which is important due to the dangerous risk of infection if a woman’s water is broken longer than 24 hours.
But during that time, I was cruising right along, doing my hypnobirthing techniques, handling the contractions… and then, something changed. The labor became very painful. Like I’ve never felt before… excruciating. It was Friday morning… turning into Friday afternoon and I was experiencing hour after hour, wave after wave of excruciating pain that was becoming impossible to handle. I was actually shocked at the intensity of the pain because I consider myself to have a decently high threshold for pain. The hypnobirthing techniques? LOL. Not a chance. I tried going into a tub of warm water… didn’t help. I tried different positions…. didn’t help. I don’t want to belabor the point, but it was fucking agony. So painful that I began to fear something was going terribly wrong and that I might die. It was then that I started contemplating going to the hospital.
What had started as a lovely beginning to my home birth was turning into a nightmare. My homebirth was becoming so painful that it was tarnishing my memory of my baby’s birth and that scared me. I was sure my body was filled with stress hormones because the pain was so scary, and I wondered what that was doing for my baby.
As my intuition continued to scream at me that I needed to go to the hospital, I hate to say this, but I was afraid to tell my birth team. Afraid of looking like a wimp, of letting them down, or of making them think they had let me down. Finally I got the courage to say it. (With the benefit of hindsight, I realize I should never have felt ashamed for wanting to go the hospital… but my homebirth had meant so much to me, and such a radical change just takes time to process.)
My instincts told me that something wasn’t right. My midwife and birth crew tried to talk me out of transferring, told me that everything I was feeling was normal. My husband looked worried though; he knew how badly I had wanted a home birth and that something was probably not right. At this point, my midwife checked my dilation and found that I was only… four centimeters. FOUR! After all of those hours of unbelievable pain and I was only at four – turns out my intuition was right. In that instant I knew that I had to go to the hospital, end of discussion. Knowing that I might not even be halfway there, with many more hours of hell to go, was all it took for us to switch to “Plan B.” My midwife, too, seemed surprised by my lack of progress. She quickly went from “let’s talk about it” mode to “which car should we take?”
She fully supported my choice to go, but technically speaking, this was not an emergency transfer. This afforded an opportunity to consider different options. I had earlier toured a nearby hospital as part of our backup plan. But with this being a non-emergency, we opted to transfer to a hospital that was much further away (45 minutes instead of 15 minutes to the nearby hospital), but much friendlier toward homebirth transfers and midwives. And most of all, it had much lower C-section rates. At the time, choosing an extra half hour before I could get pain relief seemed like insanity. But in the end, I’m so glad we made this decision.
Once at the hospital, it was another agonizing, screaming hour until I was in a labor room, where I could finally get some pain relief, which by then was an incredibly easy decision. It’s hard to describe how I felt through all of this other than to say that I was in a bizarre state. I felt detached, like the pain was cutting part of me out. At that moment, my concern was for getting my baby born and helping me do it. Two days before, I would never have dreamed I’d accept drugs for pain at the hospital, but when new information presents itself, you have to be flexible. My overriding concern at this point was to have a vaginal birth, not a C-section. And that would require all of my strength.
After being relocated from triage to my very comfortable delivery room (which was big enough for the whole team!), receiving pain medication… everything was better. I was able to relax a bit. I was able to be myself again. I was able to focus on my baby. I was relieved.
We now believe that Kamea had been presenting with her elbow in the up position, which would explain the slow progress and extreme pain.
The hospital was concerned that my water had been broken, by now, for over 24 hours, so they gave me antibiotics (as well as 2 days’ worth for Kamea after she was born – which I was okay with, given the high risk of infection in hospitals).
One by one, each item of my Plan B birth plan got nixed. (Like my husband tells his clients, “You don’t make plans to know what will happen, you make plans so that you can make good decisions when the time comes.”) In my delivery room, they strapped me to machines, but I didn’t care. They gave me oxygen because Kamea needed it apparently. We found out that I had meconium in my water, meaning we would need to clamp the cord immediately after birth, as opposed to my original desire to clamp after it was done pulsing, but that was not to be. (I’m still a bit sad about that.) Also, my placenta was messed up because of the meconium, which meant that I wasn’t able to do the things I wanted to do with it. (I had three things planned: I was going to try some raw in a smoothie, have some made into chocolate by my midwife, and have the rest encapsulated. Bummer… I couldn’t do any of it. But, the hospital did give it to us so I could bury it in my mom’s backyard.)
Anyway… back to the labor. It progressed, still slowly, but it did nonetheless. I have to say, we had an amazing staff. In spite of my previous concerns about hospital births, this experience largely proved me wrong, and tells me that not all hospitals are the same… in fact, far from it! At the hospital, I started to relax, get rest, and I was able to eat. Yes, eat. The hospital did allow that… in fact, my doctor actually brought me food! At home when I was laboring in pain, I had no appetite, I was tense, and I wasn’t able to relax. I would not have lasted the whole 30-some hours at home, and I know in my heart if I had waited at home, I would’ve transferred due to exhaustion and pain, which would’ve likely resulted in a C-section. As it was, my timing for transfer was perfect in that I was still in a great position to have a healthy vaginal delivery. My labor was still long once I was at the hospital (about 12 hours more), but it was more manageable. There isn’t much more to detail about it other than to say that when the time came for pushing, I did that for about an hour. It was hard work, but it was without pain. By this time, the epidural had mostly worn off. But it was the contractions that had hurt, not the pushing itself… that was just hard work. And, when Kamea finally came out… that part wasn’t painful at all. It was super cool.
Because of the long interval from water breaking to delivery, and its risk of infection (to both Mom and baby), the protocol was to keep us in the hospital for a few days for observation. During this time, I had a wonderful experience with every single person (except one formula-pushing NICU nurse who told me Kamea was hungry and wasn’t getting enough from my colostrum. What a guilt trip to put on a first-time mother!).
For the past year, from my reading and many stories I’ve heard, I’ve been hard on hospitals. What I’ve learned is that not every hospital deserves that. Phoenix Baptist was amazing. They explained in detail, slowly, the different options I had through every step of the labor. They encouraged breastfeeding. They answered all of my questions. They were patient with me. They accepted my birth team (all of them!) — and even collaborated closely with my midwife, who served as my staunch advocate through the entire process. They treated me with the utmost respect. They respected my birthplan (whereas other hospitals in my area roll their eyes at such things.) They didn’t pressure me with anything (except the one nutty NICU nurse). The attending OB even said something in front of his staff that just amazes me, “We doctors could learn a few things from midwives.”
What I’ve walked away with is this: I had the chance to experience part of a home birth, as well as a hospital birth. I suspect that if Kamea didn’t have an elbow up digging into me, my labor would’ve progressed faster and wouldn’t have been as painful. But, she did. And, as her mom, I made decisions that I didn’t expect to make, but at the time, I was completely happy to make them. They felt right in my gut. And, the other thing I learned… don’t be afraid of the hospital if that’s the route you need to go yet you had planned to birth at home. It’s wise to choose a hospital that is midwife-friendly, if possible, otherwise, be sure to have your birth team there to advocate on your behalf and help you navigate the system. I knew they had my back at all times, were watching every little detail, and were making the hospital staff answer any question that came up.
A brief word about Hypnobirthing. Did I find it useful? Maybe… it’s hard to say. Perhaps it helped calm me and relieve some pain and I would’ve been in an even worse situation without it. On the other hand, I tend to be a vocal person and sprinkle f-bombs like they’re pixie dust. I didn’t say much of anything during labor, other than some low zombie-like grumblings on the advice of my birth team, because I was trying to do the hypnobirth thing and just breeeeeathe. Maybe if I had been more true to my f-bombing self, I would’ve felt a tad better. But then again, no amount of cussing would’ve brought Kamea’s elbow down if that’s what was going on.
Perhaps Kamea was indeed presenting in a way that caused me great pain or contributed to such a long labor. But I also sometimes wonder if the labor was protracted because she just wasn’t ready to come out. Three days prior to my water breaking, I took measures to “support labor starting.” I underwent two “aggressive” acupuncture treatments. I now wish I hadn’t done that. I wish I had let Kamea come on her own time. I did it because she was almost two weeks past due, after which my midwife technically isn’t allowed to do the delivery. Because I wanted a home birth so badly, I was willing to try and speed things. I can’t help but wonder if this contributed to my long labor. Maybe Kamea wasn’t ready and therefore maybe it took longer than it would have if I’d just let her be.
On the other hand, Kamea held out just long enough to be born during a lunar eclipse… which is pretty cool… so maybe she was just waiting for that!