Many people ask me why I went the natural route with birthing my two babies: why a birthcenter with midwives and not at a hospital?
My personality is such that I never want to miss a trick even, as it turns out, when it comes to childbirth. I wanted the full experience -- for better and for worse.
I figured I’d only be doing this twice in my life and if all those women before me could do it drug-free, why not me? When I’m an old lady some day, I want to look back and say, ‘yeah, I did that.” I don’t want to have felt that I missed a life experience.
Of course, I could have chosen a hospital birth and then simply not taken painkillers. But, I knew that giving birth would be hard work, and I was concerned about being offered pain medication when I was most vulnerable. So that got me thinking about an out-of-hospital birth.
I did a Google search for midwives in the Denver area and discovered the Mountain Midwifery Center. It’s a stand-alone birthcenter with midwives, located across the street from a hospital in case there was an emergency. I thought, this is just the ticket! I wanted to surround myself with experts on natural birth so that I could accomplish this great goal, but also have back up in case things didn’t go as planned.
Both our son’s and daughter’s births went very smoothly and were both so different! Here is the story of our daughter Elsa’s birth – she, by the way, is the first girl on my husband’s side of the family in 150 years!
Elsa Joy--a bit of a piece of work from the start! She couldn’t quite make up her mind and was not interested in being rushed. On a Friday about a week before her birth, Elsa began to stir. I woke up at 1:30 am with contractions that lasted throughout the day and then settled down at sunset. Grandma (Don’s mom) was not to arrive until Tuesday, so we were all a bit frantic when these stirrings began three days before our extra pair of hands was due to arrive! To make matters worse, both our back-up people who were going to watch Aidric weren’t available that weekend. Being the sweet Grandma she is, she changed her flight and arrived the very next day with plans to stay for 2 weeks. Phew.
And what happened next? Absolutely nothing for the whole week! Grandma’s reassuring presence ensured that this girl would come when she was good and ready! With our time with Grandma ticking by, we began Operation Encourage Birth.
Sunday my girlfriends planned a trip to a salon for mani/pedis to celebrate the coming of Miss Dew. I brought Grandma along too. People had mentioned that reflexology during a pedicure is a good way to get labor going. I told the gal to go for it--hit those pressure points! Didn’t do a thing to start labor, but I loved having time with friends and picking out fun nail polish so that I had pretty toes to look at during labor.
Tuesday I went in for my 38-week appointment and they did a cervical swipe, which sometimes helps things along. Fingers-crossed! Alas, nothing happened.
The next day, Don and I went out for spicy food at our favorite Mexican restaurant. I even ate a whole roasted jalapeno! All the spice didn’t do a darn thing though.
Then I went swimming at the Rec center. Twice. Friday evening, after the second swimming outing, I lost the mucus plug. Hurray! But then I read that that didn’t actually mean that labor would start anytime soon. Oh well.
Then Friday night came and the full moon appeared, so we were curious if that would help get labor started. No such luck.
I was tired of speculating when the baby might come. And even though everyone was really sweet and encouraging, I still felt like they were all waiting for something to happen with my body.
Feeling under pressure, I decided to get some alone time. Grandma had taken Aidric up to their second home in Winter Park on Thursday for the weekend, so it was just Don and I sitting around and waiting.
Saturday morning came and it was sunny and warm. After working from home the whole week, Don was itching to go for a mountain bike ride but nervous about leaving me alone. I told him to go anyway, and he was out the door.
Wouldn’t you know, while he was gone, I stood up to use the computer at 11:50 am and my water broke! My first thoughts were, yippee this baby will probably be here within the next 24 hours, I’ll finally get to meet my daughter and I’ll no longer be pregnant! I was absolutely giddy!
I rang Don on his cell phone, but he must have been in a poor reception area because it took 3 calls to reach him. Once I got the message through, he zipped home and even caught a ride from a guy in a pickup truck for part of the ride home. He got home at 12:30 pm and jumped into the shower and we scurried about the house making sure everything was in order.
What happened next? Absolutely nothing! Hours later, still not a single contraction. We were getting very good at sitting around and looking at each other. Uhhhg!
The birthcenter wanted to see me in active labor by the 12 hour mark (midnight) otherwise we’d be pushing our luck with having our baby at the birthcenter. The rule is that you need to be in active labor within 24 hours of the water breaking otherwise a trip to the hospital for medical intervention is needed. At 6 pm, Sarah, the midwife on call, suggested I take a dose of castor oil to get things moving. It is a stimulant laxative that helps induce contractions. Two hours ticked by, and still nothing happened. Sarah explained that sometimes it takes two doses, so I took the second shot at 8 pm and lay down to try and get some sleep.
I was disappointed. The whole day I had been so excited thinking that I’d get to have a daytime labor/delivery and how wonderful it would be to not have to pull an all-nighter like we did with our son. But it was not to be.
Sleeping didn’t happen and at 9:30 I became violently ill from the castor oil. I threw up several times and was on all fours in our bedroom unable to move. The castor oil gave me severe abdominal cramps and then I was getting starter contractions at the same time, so it was all one big cramp with NO break in between. Panic, fear, pain...at this point all I wanted was an ambulance ride to the ER!
After 30 minutes of this, Sarah said to go ahead and come down to the birthcenter. You didn’t have to tell ME twice! Meanwhile, Mother Nature decided that since it hadn’t rained in Evergreen since October that this would be a good night to shower the road with some nice freezing rain. So with rain coming down and temperatures falling below freezing, Don nervously drove us the 26 miles to the birthcenter, which took about 45 minutes that night. We tried not to notice the pile of cars and emergency vehicles as we pulled onto the interstate.
We arrived at the birthcenter about 11:30 pm and I made a beeline for the bathroom. I spent a good hour getting sick and then lay down to rest on the birthcenter’s big log bed with Don. Sarah explained that after the castor oil effects had worn off, my contractions would regulate and active labor would be underway.
Sure enough, about 12:30 am I started breathing through contractions and Don was there to time them. About 1:30 am, I was too uncomfortable to lay in the bed anymore so I stood up and used the hammock sling thingie suspended from the ceiling. It took a lot of the weight off and I was able to sway and breathe in rhythm during the contractions. Sweat poured out and began to roll off my face like nothing I had ever experienced before.
Things were getting intense, so Sarah checked me. I was only 6 cm dilated. I was so disappointed! I thought for sure we were farther along than that. She suggested I get into the birth pool at that point.
The warm water felt good and I tried my hardest to relax during contractions. I wondered if I would be in for another marathon 18 hour birth that I had had with our son. But much to my surprise, I watched as Sarah started laying out chux pads (absorbant sheets) on the bed and a towel on the floor. “This is for when baby is here, which will be very soon”, she exclaimed. I was in disbelief!
I then felt some pressure below, as if baby was at the gate. Was it time to push? Sarah checked with her flashlight underwater and said, “go ahead and push, you are fully dilated at 10 cm and I can see her head!”
This was all happening so fast, how could it be? The huge holy-hell–why-am-I-doing-this contractions had arrived. I pushed a couple times and Sarah excitedly announced that her head was out. Again I was in disbelief! Sarah explained that once baby was out, she would pass her through my legs and I could pick her up out of the water.
With that I got a nice burst of motivation--I was almost to the finish line, I could DO this! A couple more ‘rrrrahhhhrrrrr pushes/contractions’ and Elsa came out. Sarah passed her through my legs like a little football, and into my arms she landed. Pure joy, relief, happiness, disbelief, amazement and love! Don bowed his head, completely overwhelmed with emotion. We did it.
Kate, our nurse, wrapped Elsa in a blanket and hat while we were still in the pool.
Then we stood up and shuffled our way over to the bed with umbilical cord still attached. Don was at my side on the bed and held Elsa in his arms as I delivered the placenta and dealt with after-birth pains (just like contractions) and uncontrollable body shakes. That was a bit of a raw deal--to have contractions even after delivery.
It was wonderful for the three of us to lay in bed and snuggle. Don and I marveled at how tiny her hands and feet were, how beautiful her little face was and how long her fingernails were. Our precious daughter was finally here, wow! Elsa latched on without a problem, that was nice. Don ceremoniously cut the umbilical cord and also went with Elsa to see her get weighed: a healthy 7 pounds 5 ounces. I took an herbal concoction to help with the pains and later took an herbal bath that also helps with that. Afterwards, I changed into a nightgown and got to cuddle with Elsa and Don and EAT!
Sarah said that I had only pushed for 10 minutes. The labor was 5 ½ hours if you count from the time the castor oil kicked in, or 2 ½ hours if you count from when the castor oil effects subsided and real contractions began. The only people that were there for the birth were myself, Don, Sarah, and Amy, the photographer. Kate, the nurse, arrived moments after birth. I felt completely safe and supported the whole time.
Looking into my husband’s eyes and hearing his comforting and encouraging words really helped get me through. Sarah was awesome. She chose her words well, always kept me informed as to what was happening, and was just an excellent coach. It was a small group, but it was all I needed. Even Amy helped out and held my hand while the placenta came out and offered reassurance when I got Elsa latched on for the first time.
I feel so fortunate, blessed and proud to have had a beautiful, natural birth. It is truly a miraculous event that I will remember always.
Photography by Amy Swagman:
Tags: birth story, birth, birth story with pictures, positive birth stories, natural birth stories, midwife, birth center birth stories, midwife birth stories, birth photography, pictures of birth, inspirational birth stories, amazing birth