Original printing was in Natural Child Magazine here.
I don’t consider myself to be particularly brave and I’m certainly not the hippie people think I am when I tell them that I had a home birth. However, I do consider myself to be wise and a good mother. In the past, when I met people who had home births, I was shocked and couldn’t fathom why someone would do something like that! But then….
I made it through my first labor and delivery without any medications and realized that I didn’t need anything provided by the hospital; in fact, I suspected that I rushed the delivery in an effort to please the hospital’s schedule and my discomfort in that setting.
So, when I moved across the country before my next pregnancy and discovered that what the medical community wanted/required of me did not jive, I realized that the idea of a home birth brought me peace, joy, and excitement. Isn’t that what birth should be about? Wow, talk about coming full circle on my idea of a perfect birth!
The Story Begins
Our story begins Sunday morning, March 27th. I was almost thirty-six weeks into my second pregnancy. It was my morning to sleep in and I was enjoying lounging in bed, listening to the sounds of my husband Jake and daughter Hazel (twenty-plus months old) make breakfast. I turned in bed and felt a rush of warm liquid. My water broke at exactly thirty-five weeks with Hazel, so my initial thought was excitement as I yelled for my husband. That excitement turned to horror as I looked down and saw a pool of blood.
I jump out of bed, calls for husband becoming frantic; as the blood continues to gush out of me… pooling on my (new) carpet, splashing in the toilet, and into the tub where I finally decide is the best place to contain myself. Jake immediately calls 911 and my parents. Parents arrive within minutes; they live up a short path through the woods...one of life’s biggest blessings! At this point, it’s probably been twenty minutes and the bleeding is slowing. My mom helps me sponge bathe and dress for the ambulance, Jake gathers necessities, my dad helps Hazel finish breakfast. The ambulance arrives and off I go...to our local hospital.
The EMT who is with me is very calm and we have a great conversation about midwives and home births. (His kids were born in a natural birthing center). The bleeding has about stopped. I’m anxious to feel movement and hear heart sounds. They wheel me into the OB section of the hospital and immediately things begin to stress me out. The nurse is cross with me for not having current labs/ultrasounds/all the unnecessary tests they automatically give to all pregnant women. The doctor is lecturing me on the risk of home births. They strap monitors to my belly and I ask, “Is that the baby’s heartbeat?” YES! Instant relief.
I Need Respect
My husband politely asks for a different nurse, one who will not appear so judgmental and he has a heart-to-heart with the doctor about how I need to feel respected. So, the doctor returns and is much more polite and kind. He informs me that my waters are still intact, that I am two centimeters dilated and that they don’t know what caused the bleeding. We request an ultrasound, but he declines, saying it most likely won’t show anything. He guesses that my cervix might have torn slightly or that my placenta tore slightly due to overwork in the previous days (darn nesting instincts!). No answers.
In retrospect, I wonder that because I sponge bathed before I arrived at the hospital, they didn’t understand the gravity of the bleed. We told them that we thought it was a “couple of pints” of blood, but clearly they didn’t respect our intelligence level...and they didn’t know that my husband is a nurse himself.
We returned home with orders to stay on modified bed rest until my scheduled appointment on Tuesday with my midwife. In the meantime, my parents had entertained Hazel and successfully auditioned for a HazMat team. They had cleaned and cleaned and cleaned (even broke out a carpet steamer!). I can’t imagine the horror of cleaning that much blood from a daughter’s bedroom and bathroom. But they did it and how wonderful it was to come home and be tucked into clean sheets and not have to deal with the morning’s trauma!
Jake and I talked and felt really uncomfortable with the lack of tests/insight about the cause of the bleed. So, I scheduled a visit to the local pregnancy clinic (I’m on government insurance for pregnant women and therefore use the local clinic; another big difference from my first dual-covered pregnancy!) for Tuesday morning.
I arrived at the clinic and the nurse scheduled an ultrasound for Thursday morning. My first thought was, “I hope I make it until then,” but then I chide myself because although I’d been having contractions since Monday dinner, they were clearly Braxton Hicks contractions because they’d be steady for hours and then disappear for hours.
Then I went to an exam room. Now, without seeming too judgmental, let me say that I think I am a very rare patient for this clinic. One, I am not a teenager. Two, I am not a sheep. I am an intelligent, educated woman who has read countless books on pregnancy and birth. So perhaps I’m being harsh on the doctor who reduced me to tears. He informed me that there’s no way to know why I bled and an ultrasound wouldn’t help, but I could still have one if I insisted. Although I was sitting there naked, covered with a sheet, he did not exam me or even listen when I mentioned having “regular” Braxton Hicks. I could have been more insistent, but I was feeling tiny and insignificant as he “informed” me that I was most likely going to kill or brain damage my baby and myself by attempting a home birth.
Then he touched my belly for less than a second and declared her breech… Look out! Now he is asking me who is going to raise my other daughter when I kill myself trying to birth a breech baby. And didn’t I know that no doctors will birth breech babies because of the high risk and what was I thinking?…. He didn’t say anything I didn’t expect a Western doctor to say, but it was still terrifying to hear all of that. Of course, I in no way wanted to risk the health of my unborn daughter or self...and yet...putting my hands in the air and saying, “Please perform major surgery on me,” just did not seem like a “risk free” solution.
After I had a tearful conversation with Jake, he left work early and we began to discuss our situation, only to feel completely unsure of every decision we had ever made in this pregnancy. I was seriously considering loading up the car and driving the 2,600 miles back to the supportive, open-minded, gentle family practitioner I had for my first birth.
Midwives to the Rescue
Fortunately, my midwife was to arrive around six o’clock for our regular appointment and we felt that after discussing things with her we might have more clarity. When she arrived, she brought an aura of peace to our home. She was willing to discuss all of my “risk factors,” although every time she asked if the hospital/doctors had ruled out (blank) cause of bleeding and we said no, we began to regain our confidence in her and our shock at our treatment with the “traditional” medical facilities. Because I had had “Braxton Hicks” for the past twenty-four hours, she wanted to check my cervix (something she rarely does because simply checking a woman’s cervix can induce labor and is typically unnecessary). Hello: I was six centimeters dilated! (FYI: at ten centimeters, baby arrives).
Once again, my dear father received a frantic phone call from us to please come right away. He took over with Hazel and we hopped into the car to drive thirty minutes to another midwife’s home who has an ultrasound machine. We wanted to look at the breech positioning and at my placenta so that we could make the most informed decision possible because our baby would be arriving one way or another very soon.
We were disappointed to learn that yes, everyone was right in their breech position diagnosis. The placenta had some irregularities, which concerned both midwives, but it was positioned at the top of the uterus, which was good because it wasn’t in the way of the cervix. The midwives were both confident of the safety of birthing a breech baby, but they also had concerns about my unexplained bleeding. Jake and I felt totally lost. I cried and cried as no solution seemed right