I am pleased to begin offering the birth stories of my clients from time to time. I believe writing about your birth is therapeutic and powerful for both the writer and reader. My hope is that reading these stories will normalize birth and show what planned home birth (even when it doesn’t go as planned) looks like in real life.
The Tuesday morning my pregnancy reached 34 weeks, I was lying in bed with my husband, Scott, and my daughters when I felt myself leaking. After getting up and using the toilet, I knew it was amniotic fluid. Scott called my home birth midwife, Gina, who advised us to go to the hospital. That’s what you do for preterm premature rupture of membranes. We packed up the four of us, doing our best to figure out what a hospital bag should include, getting little girls into daytime clothing, and setting me up with pads. We drove to the hospital where the midwife had called ahead. We were so out-of-touch with the hospital’s maternity scene that we didn’t even know what part of the hospital to enter.
In the Women’s Care Clinic Triage, we began to meet hospital staff and experience the hospitals tests and monitoring. An obstetrician, midwives, and nurses talked to me about induction and infection. I started antibiotics, got a culture to test for GBS bacteria, and did a steroid shot for baby’s development. The hospital standard was to induce labor for at 34 weeks to prevent or manage infection risk. My husband and I were very hesitant to artificially induce labor and even more worried about bringing a 34 week premature baby out into the world. The staff gave us material to read on the infection risks. They also decided on allowing midwives to provide my care for the birth in the hospital birth center. They wanted to give me the closest birth experience to what had been my plan and dream. They knew that I had previously birthed my two daughters at home and had planned that for my son. They cared that I had to give those plans up to have a preterm birth instead. We made the decision to wait for the complete 48 hours of steroid treatment, to watch for signs, such as fever, of an infection, and as much as possible, give our son more time to develop on the inside. Hospital staff continued to ask us about induction at each shift change. This stressed us each time, but we managed to have each new care provider understand our plan.
We waited. The first 30 hours were in the triage room because the women’s care center was busy enough that there were no open rooms. I was uncomfortable being both in a hospital setting and in a room meant only for temporary care. I slept on a gurney. Wednesday morning I was given the second steroid shot, and that afternoon I was moved to an antenatal room. This room was far more comfortable, but the whole experience was emotionally hard. I hadn’t been admitted to a hospital since 1986 and hardly been away from my daughters overnight before. We were adjusting to the fact that we would have a preterm infant and that our plans to have a full-term baby at home were simply not possible anymore.
On Thursday morning, we learned that the GBS culture was negative and the steroid treatment was complete. There were still no signs of distress or infection so we felt comfortable with waiting and not inducing contractions. I had random contractions during Wednesday and Thursday nights. Friday, I busied myself in the hospital by joining in some crafts and a movie that were put on by volunteers at the hospital. During the evening movie, I felt frequent enough contractions that I timed them but they were not following a pattern. When the movie was over, and I was back in my room, I panicked. I wasn’t ready to go into labor; I wasn’t ready to have a third baby; I wasn’t ready to have a preterm baby. I called Scott and asked him to come be with me. Friends went to our house to babysit the girls and put them to bed. During my panic, and while I was still crying, the night shift nurse came to meet me. She listened to me about how nervous I was. I felt she was very caring. I also met the midwife for the shift. We talked a little bit about what to expect for labor and that a Benadryl could help me get some sleep. I remember that we discussed cervical checks, and I said that I would decline them because they increase infection risk when the water is already broken. Scott came and stayed with me a couple hours to help me calm down. Then I slept.
I slept until 2:45am, when I woke to a contraction and got up to use the bathroom. I couldn’t get back to sleep between contractions and anxiety, so I timed contractions. In the next 20 minutes I had 4 contractions so I called the nurse. She came to monitor me. The monitor didn’t pick up my contractions but I had another 4 or so (I’m not sure it ever picked up my contractions). Off and on in the next couple hours the nurse would come to monitor and talk with me. She told me there were no available labor and delivery rooms so I would have to stay where I was. This was a bit disappointing as I looked forward to soaking in a big tub. We talked about my progress and my previous births. She called the midwife a couple times and the midwife asked each time if I wanted her to come “check” me, I declined. At 5am I told Scott to ask our friends to come back to the house and for him to come to the hospital. I told my photographer it was time to come. I told the nurse “I’ve done this before. I’m pretty good at it and may seem calmer than you would expect for my progress in labor. At some point you (all) are just going to have to believe me.” Scott arrived (5:45ish), then the photographer (6:10ish) and labor kept progressing.
Eventually I stopped trying to rest so much, as I had been for the wee hours of the morning, and got on my knees to try to relieve the pressure in my hips. I started asking Scott to “squeeze” for each contraction and the counter pressure helped. Then I was shaking between contractions and getting irritated if touched on my belly. Scott said the midwife came in during this time and offered another cervical check. I declined and she headed out of the room with Scott saying “she’s in transition.” Not long later, at the end of a contraction, I felt the urge to push. I announced, without knowing who was even there, that I was going to push. Scott lowered the head of the bed, and I laid on my side ready to push. My photographer went into the hallway to tell whoever she could that I was about to push. In the next contraction, my body and I pushed. Only the photographer and Scott were in the room. Pushing was intense as always, and I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing or that I had enough support. In the one contraction, I progressed through “I don’t know what to do with my leg”… “I’m going to poop”… “Help me. Help me”, hearing Scott say “he’s here” as the head was crowning and then pushing the baby out onto the bed. Scott quickly picked him up and handed him up to my hands and bare chest. Gideon Scott (as he was to be named around day 5) was born at 6:33am on Saturday September 24, 2016. He weighed a very healthy 5 lb. 9 oz. and was 50 cm long (roughly 19 3/4 in.).
Gideon was beautiful, pink and crying. The room started to fill with people who wanted to examine baby, cut the cord and so on. We managed to get a bit of time before cord clamping such that it had almost finished pulsing. I got a few minutes of skin to skin but had to relinquish my son to the NICU staff that was there to examine him. They checked him over and wrapped him up, gave me a bit more time to see him, then took him to the NICU. I cried. I finished what I had to do, i.e. delivering the placenta and a bit of cleaning up and got into a wheelchair as soon as I could. Visiting my son in the NICU was hard. He was in an isolette, I was feeling poorly, and I had to go rest again before I could hold him. Back in my room, I had breakfast and a shower. My sweet photographer stayed to visit with me since I was feeling so vulnerable. My mother-in-law arrived with my daughters, and we showed him the first couple pictures of their brother. Once I was feeling well enough, I went back to the NICU where Scott was doing skin-to-skin with baby. We transferred him to my chest and within seconds he was rooting. I was so glad to have his first latch and so proud of my 34 weeker.
The NICU provided great care, monitoring his breathing and pulse (particularly useful since he had one bradycardia episode), allowing him to rest by placing a feeding tube, treating jaundice with UV lights and providing a low amount of extra oxygen. They supported our breastfeeding relationship and Gideon came home at 12 days old, exclusively breastfeeding and without any medication or oxygen.