Debi writes: Angels woke me up the night Ellie was born to let me know that she was about to arrive. I was asleep in one of our living room chairs when I was awakened by the absolute knowing that birth was about to begin. As I arose from the chair, I thought how crazy that was, because there were no obvious signs that that was the case. I went into the bedroom and lay down when suddenly my water broke. From all the literature I had read, we had loads of time before having to arrive at the hospital, so I took my time taking a shower, blow drying my hair, preparing myself. I was still feeling good, just occasionally a slight contraction that would slow me down. My husband, Thom began timing my contractions and he realized that we needed to be at the hospital five minutes ago. Weird. I was still feeling like taking my time.
When we arrived at the hospital, the contractions became more serious. Things suddenly did not seem as funny to me anymore. At this point the contractions stopped me in my tracks.
It must have been a busy night at the hospital, because we hardly saw a nurse or doctor or resident the entire time. Which was actually fine because when no one was checking in on us, I felt as if my body was doing what it was meant to do. The checking in actually felt as if it slowed me down, interrupted me. I imagined each contraction as a wave that I would ride, it would come in and peak, then it would retreat. It felt sacred with just Thom and me together birthing this baby.
When I felt the urge to push, I was still in the whirlpool bathtub that was a part of our birthing suite. I told Thom the baby was coming. He misunderstood and encouraged me, saying that was something good to focus on, that an actual baby would come out of all of this. Then when a resident came in to check on me, she panicked, because she could feel the baby’s head crowning. This baby was coming out NOW.
Suddenly, our birth room was filled with nurses, residents, doctors, interns, possibly a fix-it person and an auto mechanic. I am not sure, there were just a whole heck of a lot of people there. Anyway, they got me out of the bathtub and onto the bed and told me NOT to push because the doctor had not arrived. I adored our OB/GYN, Dr. Thorpe. I did a lot of research on my own and every appointment I had we would discuss what I had read. The other doctors in her practice I did not enjoy as much, they were older male doctors who did not seem to hear what I had to say as legitimate. Definitely NOT who I wanted to deliver my baby. So when Dr. Thorpe came in to check on us at one point during labor, I told her that I wanted her to deliver our baby and she actually left surgery to come deliver our baby girl! Well, when our room was filled up with people, telling me NOT to push, that just made no sense whatsoever. It was like telling everyone in that crowded room not to breathe. Or not to crowd the room. It just didn’t make sense. And one of the many people in the room requested that I not be so loud. (To which Thom responded by whispering that I could be as loud as I wanted.) The whole thing took 9 hours from start to finish, extremely short, particularly for a first pregnancy.
I think the thing that was the most challenging for us during our hospital stay was how one nurse would come and tell us one thing and the next nurse would come in and tell us the exact opposite. I think the dealbreaker for us was when we finally fell asleep our first night, the night nurse came in, turned on all the lights and asked me if I had urinated. That part of it was so not relaxing to us that we left early.
Later the hospital sent over a midwife to check in on us and when I complained that I was having trouble sleeping with Ellie so far from me, she suggested we co-sleep. Probably the best piece of parenting advice I have ever gotten, after that we all slept better. How wonderful it was to have her little body snuggled against mine each night. There was even one night as a newborn that she actually pushed herself closer to me and began to nurse.
When I got pregnant with Ben, we knew that we wanted to create a different birth experience. The hospital birth had been fine and we were glad we had Ellie in the hospital with the doctor of our choice but we just wanted to try something new. We wanted the second birth to be more about OUR family and about the sacredness that we had felt when we were alone in the hospital the first time.
So I started researching Doulas and Midwives in Madison. No one really excited me too much. Well I really liked one midwife but a lot of other people did too, so she was completely booked when I estimated I would deliver. Then Thom and I began discussing the possibility of having our baby at home unassisted–a do-it-yourself birth. I do not believe that pregnancy is an illness. Women were having babies long before hospitals were around.
I read about how 1 family a day in Colorado was choosing to have a baby at home unassisted. The more Thom and I discussed this option, the more we became excited about it. We understood that a lot of people would be freaked out by our choice, so we tried to keep it on the down low. However, this proved to be quite challenging particularly when the first thing someone asks is, “Where are you delivering?” One homeschooling mom advised me not to tell anyone that I was planning on having the baby at home unassisted. How unfortunate that with all of the wonderful options available to us here in America, that we cannot discuss our choices without fear. My friend, Amy Riley, is writing a book about women’s birth experiences to provide a safe place to converse, and my birth story will be in the book when it comes out.
But back to the story…Ellie began chemotherapy during my second trimester and we were at the hospital a great deal, which only solidified our decision to have the baby at home. I could not imagine leaving Ellie at home with someone else during that time. She needed US and we needed to be near her too. I continued to do research on the topic of birthing at home and decided that I would type all of the information I had compiled into an easy-to-read chart for Thom. Maybe I’d even get it laminated.
It was Easter Sunday and I was way pregnant. We were sitting at the table after brunch. My sister was coming to visit the next week and she had said explicitly that she did not want to have anything to do with placentas. I said that I thought it would be best to have the baby before Susan arrived and respect her request. Suddenly I started feeling a bit gassy. Thom noticed that the “gas pains” were coming at regular intervals, sort of like contractions.
Well, I did not have my hand dandy chart ready yet, so this could not be IT. Well, chart or not, it was. And away we went. Thom was unwavering in his conviction that we could in fact do this at home, even when I had my moments of doubt. He was so excited when labor began and I started to sing my “birthing song”. Ellie liked the birthing song at first and we explained that the baby was about to be born. She kept needing Thom to help her with things, getting food for example, and when he would ask to go assist her it would seem like good idea, until a contraction hit and then I thought it was the worst idea ever and I could not believe he had “left” me.
Then I got the point where I hit, as they say in running, “the wall”. I just felt like I could not go on. I had read about some women who realized that they were stalling themselves in labor. I realized I was telling myself that there was no way I could do this, that I could not under any circumstances have a newborn when my oldest child was undergoing chemotherapy. The deal was off.
Once I began to tell myself that I could do this, things progressed very quickly. Ellie came in as Ben was coming out and she decided that she would rather be in the bookshop reading books than watching her brother emerge. We were convinced that Ben was going to be a girl, so after he was born, I was holding him, saying, ” Ellenora”, when I decided I should probably check. And boy oh boy was he a boy! (Genitals in newborns are enlarged, therefore gender is quite apparent).
Then we had the dilemma of what to name this boy. Ellie came in and suggested Daniel, because the book she had been reading had a Daniel in it. We thought that might be confusing with her Uncle Daniel. I was sitting thinking how much I like the name, Benjamin, when Ellie came in and said, “How about Benjamin?” She often reads my mind like that.
The next day, Thom took Ellie for her chemotherapy and went to the office to get a birth certificate for Ben (I’d called beforehand to get a heads up on what was required.) When Thom arrived at the office they told him that they could not issue a birth certificate without corroboration from a midwife or doctor. Oh boy, that was a conundrum. We called the midwife whom I’d liked so much and she came to our home, checked out Ben, weighed him and told us how much she admired our choice. I recovered much more quickly from Ben’s birth partly because I wasn’t thinking that I would need to recover.
The week after his birth, my sister arrived, and I was somehow able to keep the whole birth from her. Thom picked her up from the airport and Susan ran into a friend at the Madison Airport she hadn’t seen in years. She was shocked at how insistent Thom, the typically laid back guy, was in getting her home. I mean she just needed a minute to talk with her friend for crying out loud! Thom knew that I was at home anxiously awaiting their arrival. So when Susan arrived with her 2 girls, I was sitting in the chair holding Ben. Susan stopped to talk with Ellie first and then walked in to our living room and did a double take. She did not even see Ben at first so expecting to see me pregnant was she. It was fun to surprise someone like Susan who is always (or almost, now that I’ve surprised her 3 times!) in the know.
The thing I am proudest of in this story is how even though we had a lot of pressure to conform to having our baby the way other people felt was the safest, we absolutely knew in our hearts that this was the best choice for our family. We proceeded in creating the birth we wanted to create even in the midst of a lot of fear to the contrary. I knew that times in the past that I was most frustrated with myself was when I did not listen to my intuition, my inner guidance, but instead succumbed to someone else’s vision for my life. It was truly an amazing experience, thank you for allowing me to share it with you.
Please join the conversation: What do you love most about your birth experiences? What are you most proud of?