Thursday, June 28, 2012

Published 1:59 PM by with 5 comments

Harmony Emelia's Home Birth

What an incredible journey this birth was! My husband Chris and I had been planning a home-birth with a local midwife, Dana, ever since we found out I was pregnant. If you're interested in reading my thoughts in favor of home-birth, go here

At my last prenatal appointment, Dana had checked me for the first time and found that I was already four centimeters dilated and eighty percent effaced, which was very encouraging! Dana predicted that the birth wouldn't be too far off, and that labor wasn't going to take very long. My estimated due date was June 17th (Father's Day), but since I hadn't had any ultrasounds, I wasn't really counting on that day. We also didn't know the gender of the baby, so there was a lot of suspense as the days crept along in June! During Father's Day weekend I had a few bouts of contractions, but when Monday came everything stopped; no labor symptoms at all. 

Tuesday morning I woke up hungry as usual at seven. Suddenly, as eight o'clock hit, I began having contractions. They were immediately five to six minutes apart and too uncomfortable for me to continue sitting down on the couch. They didn't hurt, though; it felt like a lot of pressure, which I was able to breathe and walk through. This made me think that maybe I wasn't actually going into labor after all, but I thought I should call Dana just in case. She said it sounded like the real thing and I should time the contractions for a while. I walked around the apartment for an hour as the contractions became three or four minutes apart. At that point, Chris and I knew our baby was arriving soon!

The next hour was a flurry of activity. I called my mom in Kansas City, who I wanted to be at the birth. She was super excited and began the five hour trip with my step-dad. I also called Dana to tell her it was definitely time. Chris called work to begin his two week vacation leave. Then Chris had to rush around with last minute preparations: making sure we had food available, getting the birth kit ready, setting up our bed with waterproof sheets, finalizing the accommodations for my folks, etc. By ten o'clock Dana arrived with her equipment and helped Chris finish getting set up. Dana usually had an assistant with her to attend births, but the assistant was out of town. This was fine with me; I preferred less people around.

I had still been pacing around the apartment. Walking was absolutely what my body wanted and needed to do! The contractions were now two minutes apart. They were strong enough that I had to stop moving and breathe deeply through them while swaying back and forth, almost like dancing. I didn't feel any pain. There was music playing in the background, a beautiful and intense set of pieces by Angels of Venice, which gave me something to focus on through the long contractions. Dana checked me, and found that I was seven centimeters dilated. I was excited to find that I was already so far along! We decided to continue with what I was doing, since it was working well so far. Chris brought me water, walked with me, let me lean on him when a contraction began, rubbed my back when I wanted to lean on the counter or dresser, and brought me little bites of food.

At noon Dana checked me again. I hadn't progressed very much, and the contractions were coming one or two minutes apart. They were more powerful, but didn't seem to be effective for dilation, so Dana suggested that we break my bag of waters to move things along. The instant she did, I dilated past eight centimeters and felt much more pressure from the baby's head. Dana told me to keep working through the contractions and let her know when I felt like I needed to push. She also suggested we try several different positions to help the baby move down. I tried my hands and knees, sitting on the birthing stool, lying on my back, and kneeling against the side of the bed, all of which helped me progress little bit, but made the contractions much more difficult to work through. 

The next two hours were hard. Contractions continued without any break, yet the baby was taking a very long time to move down. Chris and Dana helped support me in different positions over and over. I could tell that my body probably needed to begin pushing soon but the urge to push wasn't coming. Plus, I knew that I was getting tired, which was the first time a worry crossed my mind. The best position at this point was for me to lie on my back on a yoga mat covered with waterproof pads on the floor, with my legs up and supported by Dana and Chris. I never thought that I'd end up in a typical hospital position, but that's what was effective, so I wasn't going to complain! It was certainly the easiest way for me to labor by then since I was running out of energy. 

When Dana checked me again at two o'clock, she found that I was almost fully dilated, but still had part of my cervix getting in the way of the baby moving down into the birth canal. We made the decision that she would manually move the last lip of cervix over the baby's head and begin stretching me to assist the baby's movement. This was when I felt real pain instead of discomfort or pressure for the first time! I felt myself sinking into a place in my mind where all my focus went into "labor-land", waiting for a contraction to arrive, pushing through it, trying to learn which muscles were most effective as Dana directed me, and then completely relaxing my body to conserve energy once the contraction had finished. This stage would have been much easier if my body had felt the natural urge to push, but for some reason the instinct didn't kick in. Dana's words of guidance were invaluable as she helped me figure out what I needed to do to get this baby out!

By three o'clock I was beginning to wear down. The saving grace was the arrival of my mom! She immediately came in and helped Chris support my legs so that Dana could concentrate on the baby. I was too far immersed in the birthing process to notice much, but I found out later that everyone was getting worried because my pushing wasn't as effective as it needed to be. 

An hour later, I was almost exhausted. The thought that I might not be able to get the baby out crossed my mind; I knew he/she was very close, just a few inches away from emerging... so why was she stuck? Then Dana looked at me seriously and said these magic words: "Alyssa, your baby is SO CLOSE to being born, I can see the top of the head. But if you want to get this baby out now, you need to really use your muscles, put your chin down, get your lungs full of air, and push for a count of ten through every contraction. If you don't, then we'll have to consider going to the hospital for possible forceps or vacuum assistance." Hospital? NOW? No way! That was the last thing I wanted! 

With my last reserves of energy, I began using all my might to push. In between contractions I asked my mom to feed me bites of fruit leather and honey, and Chris continued to give me sips of water, which gave me a burst of strength. Dana was still trying to stretch me in order to give the baby room to come down, which was absolutely important, but it hurt worse than anything I've ever experienced. Every time I would have a contraction, I would try to take a deep breath from my diaphragm and push for ten seconds straight or longer. In spite of my attempt at self-control, I couldn't help shrieking as the pain became too much. This was the hardest part. I began to think, "I can't do it ANY longer." Then, in the back of my mind, I realized, "If I can't do it, then nobody can! I'M the one who has to get my baby out! Yes, I CAN do this!"  

I was dreading every contraction, but once it came I would direct all my energy into it. The seconds in between contractions were full of scattered thoughts and silent prayers that I would be able to continue; the phrase "this too shall pass" kept flashing in my mind, which was a comfort. What made it more difficult was that the baby kept kicking me with his/her feet all the time; my mom said it looked like the baby was trying to swim out, and you could see the feet pushing against my stomach constantly! When I would try to take a deep breath to push, the baby would kick against my lungs and knock the air out of me. I kept asking if my pushing was doing anything. Dana said that every time I really applied my muscles to pushing a little more of the baby's head came down.

Even though my eyes were closed I could sense that my mom, Chris, and Dana were getting more and more nervous and excited. Dana kept checking the baby's heart rate, since his/her head had been in the birth canal being pushed for so long, and the heart rate was always normal, thankfully. Suddenly the contractions burned like fire and I finally felt like I had to PUSH! Everyone was yelling encouragement, and I pushed so hard that I thought I might black out.

Then, after a huge release of pressure, something warm and wet was placed on my stomach. I was still pushing, not realizing that anything had changed, when I heard my mom and Chris crying, and Dana said, "Look at your baby!" I opened my eyes (swollen from pushing) and saw my baby looking up at me on my chest. All I could do was cry with joy and relief and say, "My baby! My baby is here!" I couldn't believe it! The baby cried a little, wiggled a lot, and was beautiful and pink and perfect. A few minutes later Dana said, "Is it a boy or a girl?" and lifted the umbilical cord up so we could see... we had a daughter! I was so happy to have my baby in my arms that I hadn't thought to see the gender. We already had a name picked out for her: Harmony Emelia!

My mom said later that as Harmony's head was emerging, you could still see her feet kicking wildly in my stomach! She was such a trooper the whole time. Once her head was out, my mom said that Dana reached in and pulled under her arms to bring the rest of her body out too, because I was already almost too exhausted to push any longer. 

Harmony was breathing well right away. She was so very alert, looking around at us and only crying a little bit. After enjoying some time together, my mom cut the umbilical cord when it had stopped pulsing, and Chris took her. I was bleeding quite a bit, so Dana immediately gave me a shot of pitocin in my leg and some cytotec; my body was almost too tired to get the placenta out, which worried us for a few minutes, but after sitting on the birthing stool the placenta finally came. There wasn't the danger of hemorrhage since Dana made sure to control the bleeding right away. 

We were surprised to find that Harmony weighed eight pounds, four ounces and was twenty inches long! I am a fairly petite person with small hips, and the baby hadn't seemed that big while I was pregnant, so to find out that she weighed that much was funny. Due to Dana's wonderful care, I didn't have any tears! My labor was only about nine hours long, another blessing for a first time birth. Harmony was so well developed that Dana thought we might have had the due date off by a week, so that she was closer to forty-one weeks rather than forty.

There were no complications with Harmony or me. I was very weak from blood loss, but I was expecting that since my blood pressure has always been low and I used to get sick from donating blood. My mom helped me clean up in the shower while Chris and Dana took care of Harmony and cleared the bedroom. This was my favorite part: I was able to crawl into my own bed, clean and happy, with my family around me and my new baby girl, in the comfort of my own home! My step-dad brought Dewey's Green Lantern pizza with lots of feta cheese to celebrate; it was the BEST pizza I've ever tasted! 

I feel so very blessed that Harmony had a natural, smooth transition into our world in the security of our home. Everything worked out so well. In spite of the pain and difficulty towards the end, I can definitely say that it wasn't anything I couldn't handle. The majority of my labor was intense but manageable. I was prepared for a long labor, with lots of techniques and "tools" to get me through many different situations, but everything happened so fast that I didn't have a chance to use most of them! I'm thankful that I felt prepared for anything, but absolutely grateful for a quick, fairly easy labor : )

During our first night together with Harmony, Chris and I read Psalm 23. The last few verses brought tears to my eyes again as I hugged my new daughter and snuggled next to my husband: "...You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

One minute after birth!

Loving our girl

Welcome, Harmony

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Published 12:56 PM by with 0 comment

Why Choose a Home Birth?

Please don't consider anything I've written here to be a personal attack on your own choices of birth or as a diatribe against hospitals. I realize that every mother has to make her own decision on where and how to have her baby; if you had a hospital birth and were pleased with it, then that's wonderful! Some of my friends work or have worked in hospitals, and I am grateful to people like them who provide care for patients. Believe me, I do think that hospitals are a blessing when they are needed! My first visit to an emergency room for stitches in my forehead when I was two years old made that very clear : ) 

First, here are the three main questions I hear, and from what others who've chosen home-birth before have said, these questions are extremely common:

~ "Isn't home-birth dangerous (since a hospital is obviously the safest place to have a baby)?"

~ "But doesn't a home-birth mean that you can't have pain medication? (You'll be begging for an epidural!)"

~ "What if something goes wrong (and you need immediate medical assistance)?"

Generally people who think I'm crazy will then go on to tell me about their children's births in a hospital, which is usually a story ending in "I was so thankful for the pain-killers" or "I would have died if I hadn't been in a hospital". Not the most positive way to prepare me for my first birth!

If you would like to know the basic answers to the questions above, I highly recommend reading this article before moving on.

Second, I had some very powerful reasons why I already knew even before I was pregnant that I did NOT want to have my baby in a hospital if I could help it. Here are some of my reasons:

~ After several experiences with illness and surgery in hospitals, I have come to view them as necessary for medical emergencies and dire sickness, so I understand their importance. I probably would have died of infections (once of staph. infection, once of double kidney infections) if a hospital hadn't treated me. However, I don't view birth as an illness. Yes, sometimes situations occur that necessitate medical interventions in birth, for the mother or baby's health, but these occurances are the minority, not the majority, as any study or honest doctor/OBGYN will tell you. From everything I've researched, the majority of women (with proper prenatal care) can have healthy pregnancies and births that require a minimum of interference.

~ Hospitals have always made me VERY uneasy, because of their frigidly impersonal environment, frequent rotation of staff (there's always a stranger poking you when you're trying to sleep), glaring white surroundings, never-ending rounds of needles (I haaaaate needles), and constant noise (other patients shrieking, the intercom, carts rattling around). How much more relaxed and at ease I would be if I could labor and have my baby at home, in peace!

~ I hate how confining some hospital rules can be for a laboring mother. It is a rare hospital that will let the mother walk around if she wants to, birth in different positions other than flat on her back, eat and drink what and when she pleases, include whatever family members she wants, sing or yell or moan, get in and out of a warm shower or tub, wear what she wants... I value the freedom to find the best process for my body to give birth, unless it is absolutely medically necessary for me to do otherwise.

~ At this point, Chris and I are still researching various options for newborns such as circumcision, vaccinations, etc. We're not sure which (if any) we'll do. With a home-birth, we can decide whether we'll have these for our baby, without being forced into them by the rules of a medical establishment.

~ After my past surgeries, the pain-killers prescribed for the days of recovery have always made me extremely sick to my stomach, so ever since I was a kid, I'd often refuse to take them. I can only imagine what a pain-blocker like an epidural might do to my stomach or nerves! I learned that I'd rather suffer through pain than throw up constantly and drain my energy. Of course it hurt, and I wasn't really one of those "silent sufferers" (my mom can attest to my crying when the pain became unbearable) but I know now that I can have a very high level of pain tolerance when I need to. An un-medicated birth has been proven to be more healthy for both the mother and baby, both in the long and short terms, and to aid in bonding after birth.

These are just a few of the major reasons I want to have a home-birth. For others, please read this article.

Here is another great article on the reasons for home-birth. 

Third, there really is a lot of safety in having a home-birth. Yes, sometimes emergencies happen. There is a chance of complications or death for the mother or newborn even in a hospital; very rarely, tragedies happen unexpectedly, which we have to be prepared for no matter where we choose to give birth. Plus, there is a much greater chance of unnecessary medical interventions being performed in a hospital birth (that may cause more problems than they prevent), not to mention the high prevelance of hospital-acquired infections that are rapidly becoming a huge problem nowadays!

The important thing is to have plans ready IN CASE interventions are needed at any point. In St. Louis, no midwife will allow a home-birth if the mother develops ecclampsia, is expecting multiples, or has a pre-existing medical condition that would make a hospital birth necessary. Only "low-risk" pregnancies are advised to consider a home-birth, which makes a lot of sense. Of course, it's still possible to have a minimal-intervention birth in a hospital, but the hospital can often try to over-rule (or bully into submission) a mother's wishes if their policies dictate a specific medical procedure for a "dangerous" situation. 

One of my favorite parts of planning for a home-birth has been the appointments with the midwife. I've been seeing her for all my prenatal visits, receiving the same exams as I'd have with an OBGYN, such as monitoring the baby's heartbeat, keeping up with my health, urine and blood exams, etc. I've loved my visits with the midwife, held in her office which is located in the comfortable basement of her home. In a doctor's office, my heart-rate skyrockets with nervousness, as I would have to wait for long periods of time in empty rooms for a few minutes with the OBGYN, with a different nurse each time taking my vitals and administering tests. Instead, the midwife talks with me as I sit on the cozy couch in her office, sometimes with her four year old daughter playing at our feet; my appointments last on average forty-five minutes while we discuss everything, go through tests (she is very considerate of my fear of needles), and ensure that everything is proceeding well for me. It is much more personal to develop a relationship with her, knowing that she is doing all she can to help me have a healthy pregnancy and will be there to help me have a positive, safe birth. She has attended over two hundred births, worked in several hospitals as a nurse (including in the intensive care unit), has five children of her own, and worked in a birthing center in Russia. Chris and I both feel very confident in her qualifications!

As a side-note, we have elected to forego the usual ultrasound tests for several personal reasons, including the important fact that we want our baby's gender to be a surprise, even though my midwife could help arrange for me to have an ultra-sound if it was necessary.

My deepest desire is for the safe delivery of my baby. If that means I need to go to the hospital, then I will certainly do that; we already have a hospital as part of the birth plan, in case I need to be transferred there. But unless that situation ever happens, I will hopefully have my first baby at home sometime during the middle or end of June. Chris, the midwife, and my mom will be present at the birth, if the baby holds on long enough for my mom to make the four hour drive from Kansas City! So far, at least, everything has been going very well, with no morning sickness, nothing abnormal in any tests, and a positive outlook for the end goal.

Am I nervous? A little. There is always the uncertainty of the future. Am I afraid? No, not at all. My preparation and support are being carried out to the best of my ability, and I am confident that nothing will happen that is out of God's will for me. Mostly, I am very, very excited! My first pregnancy has been exhausting, but also full of learning and joy. The midwife's knowledge and precaution will aid my health, Chris and my mom will boost my inner strength, and our loving community will be waiting to welcome the new little one to this world. 

If you have any other questions, please read this article, which delves further into the myths of how "dangerous" home-birth is.

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