Monday, May 18, 2009

A Home Birth Story: When Things Go Wrong

Eighteen years ago, when I began homeschooling my children, I met a whole different breed of Christian women. Not only did these women homeschool, but they did a lot of other ‘homey’ type things, including home birthing their babies with a midwife in attendance. I was intrigued by this idea, and loved hearing their birth stories. Then my friend invited me to her own homebirth and I was hooked! Watching her baby being born was a spiritual experience, as the midwife and other ladies there prayed over her and the baby, and dedicated the baby to God. It seemed to me this was the way childbirth should be.
So when, shortly afterwards, I discovered I was pregnant with my sixth child, I contacted my friends midwife, Donna, and soon had arranged to have her care for me and deliver my child at home. I told her the one problem I had always had was excessive bleeding when I gave birth, but Donna felt like that was something she could control with herbs and vitamins, which would build up my health before birth. I was given a list of things to pick up at the health food store, and some literature to read. I left her office feeling very confidant that everything was going to be alright. I had a lovely picture in my mind of delivering my child in my own bedroom, with the curtains blowing in and out on a warm fall day.

My friends and family were aghast at the idea. Didn’t I know women and babies used to die all the time before there were hospitals to give birth in? What if something goes wrong? How irresponsible could I be? Why would I even WANT to do that? I had a very good friend, Jan, who was a labor and delivery nurse and she was the biggest voice of concern about me doing this. She had just seen so many births go wrong. She had a story for me every time I saw her. I took these stories back to Donna, who soon became very annoyed at these attempts to scare me out of a homebirth. Donna told me to quit talking to Jan.

My pregnancy progressed normally until the third trimester came around. My belly began to grow very, very large, and I didn’t feel good. One day, as I was trying to get dressed for church, I leaned on the bathroom counter, trying to fight off a feeling of utter exhaustion and weakness, something that had been happening to me more and more often. “Something’s really wrong!” I told my husband. “What do you think it is?” He asked me, concerned. “I don’t know!” I said. “But I’ve been pregnant too many times to think this is normal.”
Sure enough, at my next visit, Donna checked my blood sugar, and it was very high. She determined I had gestational diabetes. She gave me a diet to follow and a little machine that would help me check my blood several times a day. I had to write down the readings and bring them back to her at each visit. As a person who had always had a fear of needles, this was hard for me in the beginning, but I soon learned to grit my teeth and stab my finger hard, so that I wouldn’t end up having to poke it more than once.

I continued to grow bigger and bigger around the middle. Donna said that many times gestational diabetes caused an excess of amniotic fluid in the womb, but there was also a possibility of twins, since they ran in my husband’s side of the family. She made an appointment for me to have a sonogram during my eighth month. It was important for her to know beforehand if there were going to be two babies.
I always looked forward to having sonograms. I liked knowing the sex of my babies before they were born, but Donna did not like to routinely do sonograms, so I had not gotten the chance to find out yet. I was really hoping for a little girl, since my last three babies had been boys. However, when the sonogram was done, we discovered we had another son on the way. For a split second, I was disappointed, but then the technician pointed out to me that the baby was licking the amniotic fluid. I looked closely at the screen, and sure enough, a little tongue was lazily moving in and out of the baby’s mouth. I thought it was so cute, and in that instant, I fell in love with my baby, and the sex did not matter a bit.
The technician remarked that I had enough fluid for two babies, and we could see this one so well because he had such a ‘big swimming pool.’ We had found the cause of my huge size. That was okay, I thought as I maneuvered my heavy body off the table. I just wanted to hold him in my arms. I named him Beau Jonathan.

My September 13th due date came, and nothing happened. I went to bed that night, though, knowing it could be any minute.
In the very wee hours of the next morning, around one AM, I suddenly woke from a very sound sleep. I didn’t know what woke me, but I felt a stinging sensation in my birth canal, and I needed to use the bathroom. I got up and went, then climbed back in bed and fell back into a sound sleep. In a few minutes, ten to be exact, I was awake again, also with the stinging sensation and needing to use the bathroom. This time, I didn’t fall back asleep so easy. Ten minutes later, the stinging was back, and I realized it was contractions that were waking me. When I went to the bathroom again, there was bright red blood, and I knew my baby was on its way.
I woke my husband, telling him to get up, the baby was going to be born, and I needed to get the bed ready for birth. My sleepy husband just rolled over and said, “Can’t we sleep just a little bit longer first?” Amazed and more than a little bit annoyed that this monumental thing was about to happen and he wanted to sleep, I spoke a little louder and said, no, we needed to get the bed ready. This baby was coming on with a bang, and I didn’t know how much longer I would have before I couldn’t stand and get the bed made up in two sets of sheets with a shower curtain between them. My husband reluctantly left the warm bed and let me get things together.
I hated to call Donna at such an early hour, but there was a terrible storm outside, and she was already 45 minutes away. She was used to such things, though, and said she would be right on her way.
I got out everything we needed, and soon had the room all arranged. I got into a warm bath to try and ease the discomfort of the building contractions. Donna arrived an hour and a half later, hindered by the driving rain outside.

I climbed out of the tub and put on my nightgown. Donna checked me to see how progressed the labor was, and found I was pretty far along, seven or eight centimeters by now. I was thrilled to be almost ready for birth, because so far, the pain had not been overwhelming. She got her things ready, called her assistant, and I called a few people who wanted to be there. My 15 year old daughter Celeste woke up and joined us, and soon my oldest daughter Rachael, my parents, and my nurse friend Jan arrived. We were ready to welcome Beau into the world.

But for some reason, he didn’t come. I dilated to a nine quickly, but felt no urge to push. Donna wasn’t too concerned, although surprised. We let some time go by. After a while, she began urging me to push with the contractions, even though I didn’t feel like I needed too. Still the baby did not come. Donna did another check on me, and discovered the reason. “Have you ever broken your tailbone?” She asked. Yes, I had! At my last birth with my son Spencer, a doctor had used too much medicine in my epidural, and Spencer had had to be delivered with forceps. Pulling this large, over nine pound baby out of my small 4 foot 11 inch, 110 pound (nonpregnant weight) body, had broken my tailbone. Donna said the tailbone had grown back rigid, like a hook, and Beau’s head was hanging on it so that he couldn’t come down the birth canal.
Donna began to experiment with having me lay in some different positions to try and get the baby past the broken tailbone. The pain increased greatly. Hours passed with no progress being shown. The pain and exertion of the labor was quickly wearing down any strength I had left. Finally Donna told me she had one more thing she wanted to try, and if that didn’t work, they would transport me to the hospital. She felt like enough time had gone by, and I was too exhausted to try much longer. She had me move into the bathroom, sit backwards on the toilet with a pillow on the tank to rest my arms and head, then lean forward to push. This was extremely painful. I could not handle it. I cried and screamed with the contractions, which my poor mother and father could hear from the living room of my house. Donna asked if she could pray for me, and I said, yes, please! So she prayed, loudly and earnestly. When she was finished, I said I could not bear sitting like this any longer. I got up and headed back for my bed. “I want to go to the hospital,” I cried. “Just get this baby out of me!” Donna wanted to check one more time, and this time, she had wonderful news. Baby Beau had made it past the tailbone, and was crowning. We had done it!
Beau was a really big baby, over nine pounds, and pushing him out was excruciating. I remember looking over at the window after one contraction, exhausted and sweaty, and seeing that the sun was well up. “I’ve been doing this all night…” I thought, as another contraction hit my swollen body. Seeing my glance, my husband offered to open the windows. He remembered my wanting to see the curtains blowing as I delivered the baby. At this point, though, I was beyond getting enjoyment out of anything, so I told him not to worry about it.
But Beau was finally born, and they laid my wet, bloody baby on my chest. Oh, he was so beautiful. Red hair and blue eyes, very fat and heavy, I thought he was the most gorgeous thing I had ever seen. My friend Jan laid beside me on the bed, crying and patting me, as Bill and Celeste looked at Beau from over my head. The relieved midwives covered me and the baby up and began to get their things ready to weigh and measure the baby. Everyone was smiling.

Donna’s assistant stood at my feet, a check list in her hand, going over things with me. “Now tell me if you feel a gush of blood.” She said cheerfully. For the first time, I took my eyes off my baby, and took stock of myself. Uh, oh. “It’s gushing.” I said. She raised the blanket and took a look. I saw her eyes widen in shock, but she kept her voice calm. “Uh, Donna, could you come over here for a minute, please?” Donna came, looked under the blanket, and suddenly they both began to move fast. My friend Jan got in on the action, helping them. They massaged my uterus and quickly moved the baby to nurse, something that helps the uterus contract. They put drops under my tongue. Donna reached in her bag and pulled out an IV. “I’m so sorry,” She told me. “I know you were looking forward to no needles, but I’ve got to give you some pitocin to help stop this bleeding.” At this point, I was so tired, I didn’t care. My eyes began to close. Jan quickly began patting my face. “Don’t close your eyes, Carla.” She pleaded. “Stay with me, now!” She desperately began to talk to me, making me answer questions. I was so tired. I wondered why they wouldn’t just let me sleep a few minutes. I had just had such an awful time and it was so hard to stay awake. I felt very peaceful, warm, and ‘drifty’. I was dimly aware of frantic activity, and I heard one of the midwives say my blood pressure was “60 and beating down.” I thought, “I wonder if I’m dying?” I wasn’t scared. It was a nice, dreamy feeling. Then my eyes fell on my newborn son, lying on my chest, nursing, and my next thought was, “I can’t die, I haven’t had any time with this child yet.” I willed myself to stay awake, and soon, they were able to get the bleeding to stop.
The midwives and Jan got me and the baby cleaned up and settled in bed, and my family trooped in to see Beau for the first time. My mother fed me grape juice through a straw. She put a washcloth on my forehead and worried over me. Bill let the other children hold their new brother, and the midwives and Jan went out to eat the breakfast my mother had cooked. Around noon the midwives were ready to leave, but Donna said she would return the next day to make sure I was okay. She said my blood count was “almost seven” when normal was 12 or 14. She warned my mother not to let two year old Spencer climb on me, because ‘I had nothing left to give.’ My mother was diligent with these instructions, which really upset Spencer, who had been kept away from his mother all morning while the birth was taking place.

In the late afternoon, I lay alone with my new baby. The wind blew the curtains in and out, and I listened as my other boys and their friends built a tee pee in the back yard. I felt a wonderful sense of contentment, my baby at my side, I was in my own bed, and I could hear my children playing and my family and friends working and talking in the kitchen. My daughter Rachael baked the baby a ‘birthday cake’. My sister in law came over with her camera, and took the sweetest series of pictures of my son Spencer, wearing nothing but a t shirt and Power Ranger underwear, as he climbed slowly up on the bed and met his baby brother.

My friend Jan’s husband told me she cried for two days after the birth, it had affected her so profoundly. Jan told me that her coworkers got tired of hearing about this homebirth, as she questioned them all the time about why they could not do like this midwife and offer their patients these different things she had witnessed, rather than just rush them off for c-sections. Donna lamented that everything that could go wrong, did, while my nurse friend had watched. I assured her that very fact had helped make a believer out of Jan, as she watched my midwives handle the crisis.

It took me several weeks to get well from that homebirth. My blood count took a while to return to normal. It was two weeks before I felt strong enough to get out of bed, and around three months before I was back to normal. I don’t know if I would do it again, if I had it to do over. At the same time, it was an amazing experience, and I’m glad I had it. When I became pregnant again two years later, I called Donna. She said she would not deliver me at home again, it was too risky. We had discovered my problem from my obgyn, who had never explained to me I even had a problem; my uterus does not want to clamp down after giving birth. Having delivered four of my five babies before Beau, he knew ahead of time that was going to happen, and had just taken care of it by giving me pitocin immediately after my babies were born. Donna felt like I needed a hospital’s care to keep me from hemorrhaging again. I was in luck, though. The hospitals we used had just started a midwife program, so even though I didn’t get to use Donna, I was able to deliver my beautiful daughter in the hospital with a midwife in attendance. It was the best of worlds, and this birth, my last one at the age of 42, went off without a hitch!

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