We kept our homebirth plan pretty quiet. As an active duty military mother, prenatal health care is rigid. For insurance to cover birth, military women must give birth at the local military hospital L&D if there is one in a reasonable driving radius. When we found out we were expecting little Hank, I called the insurance company and asked if I could be down-graded to the plan of co-pays and the freedom to choose my provider. They quoted the military L&D/ reasonable radius rule and said no. I asked if they could stop me from paying out-of-pocket for my own provider and to that, they also said no. Sweet. I contacted the amazing, local birthing center and began dual-care with both the homebirth midwife and with the military facility.
My 39-week appointment at the military hospital unfolded exactly the way it had with Vivian 2 years earlier—I mean same hospital, same provider, same 39-week appointment, same “issue,” same battery of tests, same chaos. I couldn’t believe this was happening again since it was one of the huge drivers in choosing a homebirth in the first place. My 39-week belly was measuring small. It could have been the fact that the baby was dropping, I was a bit dehydrated, or that I’m genetically programmed to grow smaller babies. The day before, I had seen my homebirth midwife and she saw no red flags. Over the course of my care, she got to know me. She knew my history, my diet, my exercise, my stress levels at work and at home. She touched my belly with her hands, not exclusively with tools and tape measures. She treated me like a person, not a data point. At my 39-week appointment with her, she felt for the pockets of fluid, commented on how low the baby was, and said that she expected labor very soon.
Back to the chaos…
After deciding that my belly was too small, the military provider ordered a battery of tests and started to mentally prepare me for induction. I tried to convey how much I did NOT want to be induced and they reluctantly released me after verifying my fluid levels were in the normal range. I walked out of the hospital and called my homebirth midwife in tears. I told her what had happened and that they had scheduled a fetal growth scan the next day and another non-stress test/ fluid level test the day after that. If my numbers were the same or worse, they would induce me. At that moment, I felt like my homebirth was being taken away. It was utterly deflating. My midwife offered to meet me at the birthing center for a membrane sweep. She said this was our best chance at still having the home birth. I called my husband to tell him the news and the plan and, to my surprise, he was really frustrated at the “unnatural” approach I was about to take with the membrane sweep. More tears.
Despite Anthony’s reaction, I drove to the birthing center and met the midwife. I was already at 3-trending-4 cm and my cervix was “angry” (the term she uses to describe one primed and ready for labor). When I returned home, I was in early labor but by 10pm, the contractions had faded. Sleep was welcomed after the emotional day. The next morning, the midwife called to check in. She thought it’d be a good idea to sweep a second time before my fetal growth scan at the military hospital. This time, I was a solid 5 cm and immediately responded to the sweep with hard, consistent contractions. By the time I was dressed, I knew I had to cancel the radiology appointment and head home. About 20 minutes into the drive, I was in active labor. I called Anthony and told him it was go-time and that I needed out of the drivers seat. We met on base and he drove the rest of the way home. Although I didn’t avoid a lengthy car ride in active labor, driving home (as opposed to the hospital) was so uplifting.
Once we made it home, Anthony started filling the tub and called the midwife. I was in the tub for about 30 minutes before I began having transition symptoms with the shakes and wanting to throw up—a first for me! I climbed out of the tub just as everyone was showing up and moved to the bedroom, which was completely set up for the main event. With each contraction, my legs cramped harder, the shakes worsened, and I was certain I’d throw up (although it never actually happened). I knew I was close but this pattern held for about 2 more hours. I started feeling like I was doing something wrong. Why hadn’t my water broken? Why hadn’t I transitioned? Was I fighting my body? This is not how I pictured this happening. At this point, the intensity of contractions lessened and started to spread out. I was on the verge of panic. How had I been so close to transition and NOTHING? The midwife offered to check to see what my cervix was up to—nine centimeters with a bulging sac. Good… but what the heck was going on?
Anthony came over and said the kids needed picked up from school. To this, I could only manage a reply of expletives. If I had had all my faculties, I would have said, “don’t leave. You’ll miss the birth. We are so close. Stay with me.” He did. I guess my actual response had communicated the intent.
The midwife offered to break my water to help things pick back up. I was ready to meet this baby so I agreed. A few minutes later, we were back in business. The urge to push didn’t feel even remotely the same as with Vivian’s birth. With her birth, the urge was unstoppable and felt strangely good. With Hank, it was WORST pain I’ve ever felt in my life. Thinking back, I wonder if he was in a strange position as he entered the birth canal? Anyway, I found myself screaming into a stack of pillows as his boney little self worked his way down. Now, please don’t judge/compare with this next statement, but both Oliver and Vivian came out in one push. Hank did not. But I thought he did. When the birth assistant said, “one more push and you’ll meet your baby,” I thought she was joking. ARE YOU KIDDING!? HE’S NOT OUT!? Anthony had to corroborate the tale before I believed it. I couldn’t imagine enduring the pain of that first push again but I couldn’t just stand there with a baby half out. I felt the build-up and beared down again. The second push was worse. Why are there so many bones!? The next moment, however, was pure bliss. Immediate relief. Immediate love.
We didn’t know Hank was a “he” until he was born. After waiting so long to meet him and learn the sex, I thought I’d be totally preoccupied with finding out. But in the moment, the only thing I could focus on was his beautiful soul. This tiny person with chubby cheeks and long limbs. My partner in this challenging labor. Look at that hair! And fingers… and toes… and OH YEAH! It’s a boy! Anthony smiled so big and gave both of us a kiss.
Postpartum homebirth-style is PHENOMENAL. Completely unlike the hospital frenzy, this immediate postpartum was calm and gentle. I climbed into bed with baby Hank totally in awe of him. No one took him away. We bonded, nursed, and rested.
Although I had no plans of bearing down for a good while, the placenta needed delivered too. It came and was placed in a bowl that sat next to Hank and I in the bed. He stayed on his cord until the kids came home. Everyone got to enjoy the cord cutting, reflex test, length, weight, and vital signs measurements.
The birth team was absolutely wonderful the entire time, but postpartum was magical. They spoiled us. They helped me clean off, fed me, cleaned up the room, did the dishes, started the laundry—they let my family bond. It was so peaceful. After a few hours and making sure that both baby Hank and I were doing well, they departed.
Although this was my hardest labor yet, I couldn’t have asked for a better support team. Everyone exceeded my expectations. This recovery has been amazing too. I took 2 weeks to rest and then began the BIRTHFIT Queen-in-Training Postpartum Program to start rehabilitating my pelvic floor. Right now, I’m half way through teaching and participating in the BIRTHFIT Postpartum Series. Having a community of support is so crucial and I’m eternally grateful for the women who are sharing this transition with me.