A midwife’s totally fabulous high-tech birth

Guest post by Hannah Wallace
39 weeks

For about nine months last year, I was a pregnant midwife. If there was a theme to my pregnancy, it was probably “no fuss.” I barely attended my prenatal appointments, I didn’t take prenatal classes, I didn’t want a doula, I wanted a simple birth at home. I wanted my pregnancy and birth to be neat, simple, straightforward, no fuss.

Thankfully, my body cooperated. I got pregnant before my partner and I really even knew what we were doing. I had a little nausea and some minor fatigue. The tests I took were all reassuring. But mostly, I just carried on, and grew and grew.

While pregnant, I had a dream that was mostly a narration from my partner’s perspective. In it, I was crouched in the bathroom, head and body leaning into the corner, and I could hear him on the phone to my midwife saying “I don’t know what’s wrong with her but she won’t talk to me anymore and — Oh my god! The head just came out,” as I delivered my own baby, totally unassisted.

I wanted that birth.

Aside from reliving that dream over and over and attending a prenatal yoga class, I didn’t do any specific birth preparation. On the one hand, I knew that there was no possible way to prepare and that I was just going to have to figure it out on the day of (true). But on the other hand, I was afraid to prepare. I associated preparing (whatever that may be) with obsessing, controlling, taking it too seriously — definite fussing.

… the oops-I’m-pregnant, sure-homebirth-sounds-fine, oops-I’m-fully-dilated folks are thought to be the intuitive, relaxed, easy-going, no fuss clients. I wanted to be one of those clients.

In midwife culture, there can be a bias against the prepare-ers, the birth plan-ers, the obsesser-ers — all thought to be guaranteed c-sections, whereas the “oops-I’m-pregnant, sure-homebirth-sounds-fine, oops-I’m-fully-dilated” folks are thought to be the intuitive, relaxed, easy-going, no fuss clients.

I wanted to be one of those clients.

I was due on a Tuesday. The following Friday night, I started contracting. They were strong and regular but I did my best to keep my cool. I rested, showered, didn’t wake my partner Jeff, tried to stay cool. I felt that this was a shift from the pre-labour I’d been having all week into early labour, which seemed great. It stopped as the sun rose, which didn’t bother me. I slept in, and waited to see what the next night would bring.

Again, that night, they were strong and regular, I rested, showered, didn’t wake Jeff. It was harder to stay cool, but I managed. Again, they stopped when the sun rose. I reported on the “stabbing knives” I’d had all night to Jeff in the morning. We took it easy that day, feeling the birth was imminent.

That night, like clockwork, they started again. This time they were strong and quick. Strong and quick like a baby that’s coming in 3 hours quick. Jeff was up with me, lighting the candles, playing music, being so kind to me. I was excited — could I possibly be so lucky to have a baby this quickly? — but I also knew something wasn’t totally right. The speed of the contractions didn’t match how lucid I still was and the pain was stabbing, ripping pain instead of the grabbing, aching type of pain I’d seen countless women experience.

The contractions continued fast and furious but they didn’t go any further. And again, they stopped when the sun rose. I cancelled my midwife appointment that day, preferring rest over a check-up, but my midwife came to see me at home. All was well except my cervix was long and nearly closed: not what I wanted to hear, but I couldn’t let it discourage me. I needed to keep strong.

The next night, again, they started, even stronger and quicker. Jeff set up the birth pool and it was divine. The contractions were strong and quick but still not quite right. I was getting tired, and frustrated. I was coping but on my fourth night, I was weakening, especially because I could feel that it wasn’t progressive.

Around 5 AM, I called one of my midwives: break my water please. Let’s get this show on the road. She came right over, but my cervix was pretty much the same. It might be a little thinner, she said, and I saw right through her midwife sugar-coating having delivered my fair share of it myself. She didn’t think it was a good idea to break my water so close to the time that they may stop again. She was hopeful for more rest before real labour, and hopeful that if they stopped again, they might re-start the next night, finally in a progressive pattern. OK, I agreed. I’ll carry on until the sun rises.

I was tired. I was afraid of how tired I was going to get, and, given how early on it still was, of getting so physically tired that my body simply wouldn’t be able to do the work.

The sun rose but they didn’t stop. I was tired. I was afraid of how tired I was going to get, and, given how early on it still was, of getting so physically tired that my body simply wouldn’t be able to do the work. So off we went to the hospital for a dose of morphine to stop the contractions and allow me to rest, and then straight back home to bed. It helped enough that I could stay in bed and sleep in between, but I still woke every few minutes with each contraction.

That evening I had a strategy talk with one of my midwives. I remember her saying something about me being in prodromal labour. What?!! The word shocked me. Even after four nights of contractions and one dose of morphine, I was still trying to downplay what was happening and hadn’t yet admitted that I was indeed in prodromal labour. I did not want there to be anything abnormal about my labour but I also knew my hopes for a homebirth were dimming with each useless contraction.

And sure enough, for the fifth night, they started again. I waited a few hours, but it was the same as before. We met the midwife at the hospital around midnight: your cervix might be a little thinner, she said. Right. I got some more morphine and a promise to finally break my water in the morning, hopefully after some more rest.

This time the morphine didn’t do a thing. I got into the tub and howled the house down. My partner reached his limit: this isn’t right, we have to go in. No, I told him, its prodromal labour, they wouldn’t even take me. At a loss, he turned on the TV and I kept howling. About an hour later, I realized he was right. Something needed to change. I asked him to call the midwife: please come break my water, we need to try something different. This was my last, desperate, shot at having this baby at home.

Suddenly, it was over. There wasn’t going to be a homebirth and I needed an epidural yesterday.

The midwife managed to squeeze the hook through my reluctant cervix to break my water. And after an hour or two, nothing changed. Then I reached my limit. Suddenly, it was over. There wasn’t going to be a homebirth and I needed an epidural yesterday. Jeff and I got to the hospital before the midwife. Through tears, I told the first nurse I saw: I need a room, a nurse, an IV, an epidural, and oxy, and eventually I got it all.

My memories of the hours in the hospital are hazy. I was tired, drugged, and I suppose by then finally in some degree of the “labour-land” that my labour at home wasn’t able to take me to. My epidural had to be replaced a few times, and I can still remember the scraping pain of my baby’s head pushing onto the area medication refused to numb. I remember being two centimeters dilated, two and a half centimeters dilated, three centimeters, four — a snail’s pace.

I remember really not wanting to have a c-section but being breathtakingly aware of how likely it was. I remember the relief knowing my favourite doctor was on call, and impatience waiting for her to get the oxytocin going. I remember Jeff sleeping on the floor beside me, reaching his hand up to my bed when I stirred. I remember his eyes red from crying in the hallway. I remember the team of midwives slowly growing in numbers as they assembled for what seemed impossible: a baby coming out of me.

Finally, twelve or so hours after getting to the hospital: fully dilated! Time to push. I knew from the baby’s heartbeat that I wasn’t going to have a lot of time. I knew I was going to have to push hard. Everyone snapped to attention, lights went on, the mirror came out. Push, and push, and push, and push. And push. Facecloths on my face and neck, tiny sliver of head appearing and retreating, squatting, squatting, encouragement, cheering, tenderness, worry. His heartbeat is low.

Then, busting into the silence: my baby’s cry, Jeff’s cry, my cry, the room explodes. Love is everywhere.

The less favoured doctor is busy in the OR, the more favoured doctor is free. I can not push any harder, there is no more. Forceps. No problem, I’m just thrilled not to have a c-section, and thrilled to stop this goddamn pain. The room fills, it is impossibly full, all nurses and doctors I work with. I am naked and raving with the pain. And then: silence. Then, busting into the silence: my baby’s cry, Jeff’s cry, my cry, the room explodes. Love is everywhere. Although I had nearly every intervention, I am triumphant: I escaped a c-section! This was my victory.

We headed home a few hours later. I limped to the car, one of my legs still slightly wobbly from the epidural. The midwife carried the baby to the car so that I wouldn’t drop him. Our little family glided home through the quiet 2AM streets, floating on the mystery of how it was somehow all over and now our baby was strapped into the car seat instead of in my belly.

Nine months later, with my baby now having spent the same amount of time outside me as he did inside me, I’m a midwife who fell in love with homebirth as a teenager and probably visualized myself in labour a million times prior to even becoming pregnant. Yet I’m also a woman who had a heavily intervention-filled hospital birth.

Of course I wish I’d had my simple no-fuss fantasy birth, but the love I felt from my husband, my midwives, the nurses and even the doctors at my real birth vastly eclipses any regret I have about not having my baby at home. The love in that room made it a truly great birth, which I felt on my postpartum high for days after the birth, and still feel nine months later. I am grateful for my beautiful healthy baby, for being able to have a baby with an amazing man whom I love and who loves me and for being able to birth my baby surrounded by people who were joyous about the beginning of his life.

Comments on A midwife’s totally fabulous high-tech birth

  1. In midwife culture, there can be a bias against the prepare-ers, the birth plan-ers, the obsesser-ers ā€” all thought to be guaranteed c-sections, whereas the “oops-Iā€™m-pregnant, sure-homebirth-sounds-fine, oops-Iā€™m-fully-dilated” folks are thought to be the intuitive, relaxed, easy-going, no fuss clients.

    Growing up with a midwife mother, this really and somewhat painfully resonated with me. It’s totally true. As a planner myself, this cultural difference has made for some interesting dynamics with my mom, as the same attitude definitely came up in her and my conversations about infertility, ie “It’s always the planners who have trouble conceiving — just relax!”

    Somehow I never really realized how much I internalized that until I read your post. So thanks for that. (Now, off to call my therapist… šŸ˜‰ )

    • Yes! We’re quickly approching a year of trying and starting to think about getting some testing done. In reference to tracking temps my mom said, “You can’t do that all the time you’ll just make yourself nuts. Don’t think about it so much. You can’t perfectly plan these things.” Uh, yeah. I’ll just stop thinking about it and stop planning.

      • Depends on who you are and how you think. Repeatedly NOT getting pregnant when we were simply “not trying not to” started driving me nuts. Charting my cycle and making sure certain things happened on certain days made me feel like there was something I could do about it. Also, it seems to have worked.

  2. What an incredible story! I love your attitude about the whole thing, your upbeat perspective on your labor. Congrats on your healthy baby, and who knows? The next birth could be a fantasy homebirth! They say second labors are quick…

  3. This brought tears to my eyes, really well written (aside from the name mix ups) and epitomizes my attitude to life I plan plan plan and take every deviation with a grain of salt, life happens.

  4. Wow! This is close to my heart, as I am a Doula and wanted what you did and ended up in the hospital. It was an incredible experience and everyone that helped bring my baby girl into this world was amazing. Everything and everyone came together beautifully.

  5. Argh! So good! Beautifully written and wrenching and satisfying all at once. I’m throwing a babyshower for an Offbeat Friend tomorrow and will have to resist distracting from the party by showing her this.

  6. What a great story – thank you for sharing šŸ™‚ I wonder if you’ve ever heard of “Birthing From Within” by Pam England? It’s a book and now has a set of birthing preparation classes based off of it. I think the author has a story that would resonate with you. She is a midwife and her first birth was by cesarian (unplanned, of course, and quite ironic). That experience caused her to write a book and help prepare parents for, similar to what you said, the un-preparable. Even though you cannot know exactly what you need to prepare for in birth, there is still lots of inner preparation (different from obsessing over over-preparing) that can be done to help women get through each moment when they don’t know what to do next but have to keep going. What I find beautiful about your story is how you were on such a birth high from all the love. THAT is what birth is about – not how it happened, but the love that was there when it happened, regardless of what intervention was used or not used. So wonderful that you walked away feeling full of love rather than disappointed that you didn’t have the birth you intended šŸ™‚

  7. Thank you for sharing your story. My son will be two months old exactly on Tuesday and his birth was not what we had planned either. I had a very uneventful early labour, so uneventful that other than having what I though were mild braxton hicks contractions, I mostly missed early labour with him. On the day he was born I woke up feeling nothing and two hours later was at the hospital dilated to 6 cm. After that things got slow. I had planned to have a completely un-medicated delivery and even though I was at the point of full dilation and even pushed for a bit, things still didn’t work out as planned. Eventually I wound up with an epidural and a vacuum extraction to get my little boy out. Not having a c-section was my small victory too. Next to the incredible and monumental victory of having my healthy baby in my arms nothing else about the delivery mattered.

    I’ve never regretted the way things worked out even though it wasn’t the birth that I had planned (and I am a chronic planner and researcher) I think it was the birth that I needed to have to learn more about how to let go and let things just be. Its a lesson I’ve had to relearn over and over with my new baby but the message is s-l-o-w-l-y sinking in!

  8. As a soon-to-be midwifery student, I wonder if my love for home birth and desire to have one will lead me straight into the hospital for my first birth experience. However, I know from experience that one can never really “plan” these things. I loved reading your story. Healthy baby = happy family. Way to own your birth story!

  9. Thank you so much for this. So much of what you said really spoke to me but nothing more than the line about your husband having red eyes from crying in the hallway. I have a midwife mother who was on hand for the birth of my child. She was my staunch ally in every way but it was only after that she told me that she had collapsed in tears onto the shoulder of my midwife. It’s hard for people you love to watch you go threw the pain of labor. I just have so much good to say about midwifes, even though I had a very “medical” birth in the end.

  10. I have to tell you I really resonate with your story. I too had those unusual “stabbing ripping contractions”. What on earth was that???? I never experienced anything like that with my first but with my second child by 6cm they were somewhat stabbing, by my third child it was just as you described. I also hemmorhaged post-partum. I am 31 weeks and loathing going through all of that again. Did you ever come to a conclusion as to what caused the unusual contraction pain? I am terrifyed of going through it yet again. It has prompted me and end of pregnancy insanity if you will and I just dont feel comfortable with birth anymore, anywhere….Home, hospital or birth center. Nothing feels right and I think Im going to be one of those obsessed patients. I just cant relax about that impending day. Im sure my providers hate me by now.

  11. Thank you for writing your birth story. I am also a midwife and a mother of a one year old. I too tried for a home birth and ended up with forceps (thank goodness not a c/s). I found it very hard to accept that I didn’t get the birth I had always hoped for. But I would do the same birth million times over for my lovely son.

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