On July 1st of 2004, I gave birth to my first child.  It was a beautiful experience; I was surrounded by family, secure in my own home, and comforted by the wonderful care of my midwife and her apprentices.  My husband’s mother, who still felt somewhat wary of birth after her own experience, found witnessing the birth of my son very healing for her own heart.  My own mother, a nurse for many years, found herself believing that the home was much more suitable for such a natural, loving act than the hospital.

This is not to say that the birthing was painless, or that it was without struggle.  I labored throughout the night, and when it came time to push, my son stayed in the “crowning” position for roughly forty-five minutes.  Even though I had thought myself prepared, I was surprised by the intensity of the event.

Still, the pain was lessened by the knowledge that I was undergoing this willingly, as a right of passage into motherhood.  It was eased by movement and sound, by being surrounded by love, and by the skilled, compassionate aid of my midwives.  When it was all over, I held my son in my arms, and was overwhelmed with joy and a feeling of accomplishment.

I was due to have my second child on December 5th of 2006, and was feeling excited and fearless.  I had invited several young women to be present, so that I could show them the reality of childbirth as I knew it; loving, powerful, and utterly natural.  In the end, I was glad that they could not come.

I began my labor at 2am on December 6th.  I called Beth, my midwife during my previous birthing experience, but I did not call the young women that I had invited.  I knew that labor was just beginning, and I would be working hard for quite some time.  Plenty of time to call on people later.

Then my bag of waters began to leak around 3am.  I called Beth once again, and she assured me that she would soon be on her way.  Jessica, Beth’s daughter and a skilled midwife in her own right, would also be coming.  She had been an apprentice during the birth of my first child, but her talent and knowledge had impressed me even then.  Mercy would be coming along as well – she had sat with me throughout that long, hard night two years ago when I had labored in the darkness of my bedroom, and this second birthing of mine was to be one of the last that she had to attend before becoming a licensed midwife as well.  I knew I had a great team of women coming to help me, and calling them was as comfortable as calling friends.

I am not sure the exact timing of everyone’s arrival, but soon I was surrounded by my husband’s parents, my mother, a good friend, and of course, my midwife team.  My two-year-old was sleeping soundly in my room.  I bounced on a birthing ball, talking and laughing.  At around 8am, my dilation was checked, and I was already at about 7 cm.  I couldn’t believe I was so close!

Then, at around 9am, things changed.  My bag of waters broke completely, and the baby dropped suddenly, engaging her head firmly into my pelvis.  I suddenly felt a familiar ache in my back and knew that this baby’s back was against my own, rather than against my tummy as it should be.  Ah, well, I thought to myself.  I can handle this.  Beth checked the baby’s head’s position and frowned.  She wasn’t exactly sure of the baby’s presentation, but it was definitely not standard.  I began to struggle more with my labor.

Soon I was in transition.  The baby was not presenting properly, but I hoped that getting in the birthing pool would help.  I was hurting, but hopeful; usually, transition does not last long, and then you are free to deliver your baby.  Nonetheless, it was clear that all was not well.  This pain was noticeably harder to manage than what I had experienced before. 

The baby’s position was still not good – her back was still against mine and her head had not turned from the position it had dropped into when my waters broke.  My labor team gave me homeopathic herbs, my husband helped with counter-pressure and massage, and my father in-law soothed me with gentle guitar music.  I still felt in control, powerful, and loved, but I knew that something was wrong.

This went on for a very, very long time.  I began to reach the limits of my tolerance for pain and exhaustion.  Worse, my cervix was beginning to swell and to bruise.  The baby was not moving down.  Though my midwives wanted to discuss options such as hospitalization, I still wanted to have this baby at home.

Seven hours passed.  The bruising in my cervix obviously would not allow the baby to progress any further downward.  I was exhausted and nearly overwhelmed.  This time, when Beth said, “Listen, we really need to discuss your options…” I knew what she meant, and I knew she was right.  We had done everything possible, but this was not a normal birth.  It was time to go to the hospital, and though I had always hoped to avoid it, I knew I was most likely going to have a C-section.

Because I had tried so hard and for so long, I knew that this wasn’t my fault.  I also knew that things were not going as Nature intended; something really was wrong.  I felt respected by my midwives, who had allowed me to make the final decision as to what to do in this situation (although I am sure that they would not have allowed me to push things far enough to actually endanger myself or my child…they had been monitoring me very closely).

When the ambulance arrived, I was ready.

My two-year-old became frightened, though I tried to sooth him as they wheeled me away.  The ambulance workers never acknowledged his tearful face.

 They put me flat on my back on a hard stretcher, strapped me down firmly with my legs together, and spoke as if I was not present.  Then Beth jumped in with me.

She convinced the ambulance worker to let me be on my side (much more comfortable), and even got them to allow me one leg free.  The movement of that one leg eased the pain, as did not having my legs pinned together. 

Then she reached up inside me (which ambulance workers cannot do), and gently pushed up on the baby’s head, relieving still more pressure.

At the hospital, they wheeled me into a room and instantly began strapping me up to devices.  My left arm went left, my right arm got an IV.  I got a catheter.  Meanwhile, I was bombarded with questions, poked and prodded, and made to feel utterly powerless.  A doctor came and began explaining that I would have to have a C-section.  I told him that I knew that, and I was ready.  He said he had to tell me these things anyway.  Without being able to move, exhausted and in pain, made to feel powerless, I began to lose control.  I begged them to give me something, anything, to ease the pain. 

They would not.  I had questions to answer and samples to give first.

At long last, they took me in for an epidural.  I felt the long needle as it penetrated my spine.  They laid me on my back and put up a curtain.  But something was wrong.  Though I could not move, I could feel everything that was being done to me.

I told them that I could still feel them, and described what they were doing.  “You are wiping me horizontally with a soft, wet cloth”, I told them.  The anesthesiologist said to the others, “She can’t feel that.” 

“Yes, I do,” I insisted.  Then he asked me what temperature the wetness on my belly was.  When I responded, “Very cold!” he said, “Test her.”  Someone pinched me hard on the belly, and I squealed, “Stop pinching me!”  The anesthesiologist shook his head.  “Test her again in a few minutes,” he said.  Keep in mind that there was a curtain up.  I couldn’t see what they were doing at all.  Still, they didn’t believe me when I said I could feel them and continued to do their pinch test several more times.  Finally, they decided to put me under with gas.  I readily agreed, not wanting to feel a C-section with virtually no pain relief.

I came to around 6pm.  My baby, I was told, had been delivered at 5:04. 

She was a healthy baby girl.  I asked to see her, and they wheeled her over.

Then I told them that I wanted her to room in with me.  I also asked to be handed her so that I could breast feed her; she had already been an hour without a mother, and those first few hours are so important for bonding. 

One nurse said that I had a fever and shouldn’t nurse until I spoke to a pediatrician (which is ludicrous).  I was very…ahem…forceful in my rebuttal, and a second nurse brought me my child.  I hurt, but I felt that the worse was over and now things could go back to normal.  I had my baby in my arms, and was happy.

But the worst had just begun.  From that point on, I never felt in control, I never felt respected.  I was repeatedly given medication without even knowing what I was being given or why.  At one point, I asked, “What’s in my IV?”  The nurse responded, “An antibiotic.”  I asked, “Which antibiotic?” and was told, “Oh, I don’t know, whatever the doctor ordered.”  I was worried that heavy antibiotics may disturb my stomach, and possibly the stomach of my breastfeeding baby, but when I voiced these concerns the nurse shrugged and re-iterated, “Well, it’s whatever the doctor thought best”.  My family and my midwife team came to my side and comforted me, and several times, they were there to stand up for me.  In the end, however, I was forced to undergo whatever the doctors felt like putting me through, whenever they felt like doing it.

They took a blood sample from the baby at birth, and it was high in white blood cells so they thought she may be sick.  They did more samples and cultures, and hooked her up to an IV.  It was a painful, pitiful sight.  

The pediatric doctor asked that the baby not sleep beside me anymore, but across the room in her bassinet.  He said they hadn’t found any sickness in her blood culture yet, but that he recommended that it be checked at 24 hours, then at 48 hours, and again at 72.  He had lots of “recommendations”, each of them scarier than the last.  Finally I said, “Can I go against any of these recommendations?”  The doctor looked at me as if I was stupid and said, “No.”  Less than an hour later, a lady that described herself as a “social services person”, wearing a hospital ID and carrying a clipboard, came to interview me.  She wanted to make sure that I would do what was best for the baby, which meant doing whatever the doctors said.  She also briefly asked me if I was feeling post-partum depression.  I wasn’t depressed.  I was scared and angry.

For days I suffered through post-operative pain, frequent wakings and stickings for both me and my newborn, and various emotional traumas.  In the end, I would have said or done almost anything to go home.  But while I was free to discharge myself, I could not discharge my newborn.  My child, it seemed, was just as much the hospital’s as mine…if not more the hospital’s than mine.   When my preferences, beliefs, or concerns did not mesh with theirs, theirs always won.

Now that I am home, the baby and I are doing much better.  My midwives will handle the remainder of my post-partum care, and I will be contacting a pediatrician of my own choosing – someone whose views are closer to my own.

Some who read this may think that the home birth I attempted was a failure, or that it was dangerous.  I don’t agree.  I believe this story proves the effectiveness of home birth.  When my planned home birth went smoothly, it was absolutely beautiful.  When we had an emergency, we were able to quickly transfer to a hospital and do what was necessary.  In both instances, I was more comfortable – mentally and physically – at home.  And when I did have to transfer to the hospital, the support of my midwives remained invaluable. They made my hospital stay more comfortable and much shorter.  Even one extra day at the hospital would have cost more than their entire fee, which covered not only the birth support, but also prenatal and postnatal care. 

Even the doctors and nurses at the hospital had to admit that my prenatal support had served me well, and that I was exceptionally well informed and prepared for birth.  They also told me that had I attempted this birth in the hospital, it would have been a C-section anyway due to the unusual presentation of my child.  Even knowing the eventual outcome of this birth, I still would have gladly hired my midwife team.