Here is a beautiful home birth for your Monday morning! This birth comes from a very dear friend of mine. Her little girl is almost one–hard to believe! These photos are incredible and the story is so encouraging. Enjoy!
I will start by telling you the end of the story. Hannah Lynn Thurlow was born at 3:30am, weighing 8lb11oz and measuring 21-1/4” with an Apgar of 9/10. If you are like most, that is where your interest in my baby, a perfect stranger to you, ends. If you are a mother or mother-to-be curious about alternative birthing methods, read on!
My birth tale ends like most stories, so you can breathe a sigh of relief. Here’s the juicy part: Hannah is my first baby. Oh wait, here’s the really juicy part: she was born at home on my couch thanks to some olive oil and a great midwife named Paulette.
Two and a half years ago, my husband’s company moved us to North Dakota. On our first anniversary, we decided to start trying to conceive and were successful almost immediately to our great relief and joy. And that’s when people started telling me their aw-ful birth stories. Now, I know this is a common phenomenon – like a rite of passage for every first-time mom to be baptized by horror stories – but these mom’s weren’t yarning me some ole’ crusty sailor fables about how much it hurt and how bad they tore. Each mom had a disappointing story about how the staff or the doctor treated them at the local hospital. To add icing to this terror cake, they would tell me about dirty shared showers with splatters of blood from other laboring mothers as the only resource for “water birth” in the labor wing. Yeah. Splatters.
Three years ago a friend of mine had a “home birth” at a midwife’s home-like birthing office in a peaceful, jetted tub surrounded by vanilla candles and loving family. I figured, heck, let’s by-pass the splatters and figure out this home birth thing.
Thankfully, my a different friend ran into someone at a chiropractor’s office who knew someone who knew someone that knew the well-seasoned, protected, and venerated Midwife Paulette. Paulette is what some call a direct-entry midwife. In other words, during the 1970’s when the hippy movement was going strong and Ina May was starting life on The Farm, Paulette lived in North Dakota among some free-spirited women in the boonies with little to no hospital access. A midwife was born. When she and I first spoke on the phone, she had delivered 554 babies. Hannah was number 572, a mere three months later.
Paulette is popular. Paulette is the only home birth midwife serving over half the state of North Dakota. She has long silver-white hair which she ties neatly in a bun. Her eyes are sparkling blue, and she always smiles with a chuckle following closely behind. If one could imagine the perfect, motherly midwife, it would be Paulette.
But, before I met her, I figured she would either be absolutely normal or a total weirdo, pseudo-spiritual, voo-doo-esque gal because those are clearly the only two options for a crazy, direct-entry midwife, right? During our first conversation she told my husband and I that she considers it an honor to be “God’s hands on earth welcoming new life into this world.” She believes how we enter this world is a major factor in forming the baby’s early sense of peace and well-being. Even though this may sound voo-doo and weird to some, coming from her smiling, glowing face, I suddenly felt everything would be “a-ok” with her assisting our home birth. Out of her birthing history, she had lost two babies due to circumstances completely out of her control. She had delivered breech babies, surprise twins, and surprise triplets. She had back-up oxygen, hemorrhage stoppers, herbs, know-how, sanitized tools, patience, a stethoscope, references, and all kinds of other tools in her tool bag of midwifery.
I did a lot of research and musing before fully committing to the home-birth plot. I found great resources at my local library, which included The Business of Being Born along with some other more home-spun DVD’s of natural births and a handful of books. I learned which trouble signs to look for (amniotic fluid that is not clear, breech concerns, erratic or slow heartbeat, etc). I researched natural pain relief and practiced labor easing moves on my appropriately red birthing ball. I ordered essential oils to be massaged on my low back to ease pain and strengthen my uterus. I attended birthing classes at the local hospital. I maintained a healthy diet and consumed lots of birth prep herbs (red raspberry, etc). We filled up our inflatable birthing tub while at the same time packing a hospital bag just in case. I had concurrent care with a Certified Nurse Midwife should we have needed to deliver at the hospital. I opted to have the 20 week ultrasound to rule out concerns over immediately needed, life-saving surgeries for our baby based on physical abnormalities. I went in for my blood sugar labs and fetal non-stress test. Lastly, I talked to other mothers who had successful home births to find encouragement and inspiration.
After all the preparation, I prepared more by finding scriptures to encourage me during the labor and filled my iPod with worship music as I knew my greatest strength would come from the Lord – my source of life and centeredness.
Then, I waited. I waited for that glorious moment when labor starts. I thought labor would start with a bang, like the shot at the beginning of the Kentucky Dirby or something. Hannah was nine days late, and for seven of those nine days, my body decided to play around with the idea of labor. I had real-deal contractions for almost the entire seven days. When labor intensified and my labor finally began, I had actually been to the hospital the previous night because my contractions were strong and only two minutes apart. Paulette lived one hour and 45 minutes away from my house, so we figured the hospital may be the wisest choice in case a baby was about to be born. Instead, the nurse gave me a morphine shot in my leg to help me rest (I hadn’t slept for five nights) and sent me and my 2.5 cm cervix home.
As per what usually happens, my water did eventually break after another day of hard contractions. Did I mention Hannah had a 14” head? Yeah. We blame that factor for why her head would not drop, engage my thinning cervix, and get the party started sooner. To overcome her big head (or short cord as the other theory goes), I spent the day squatting over a towel during contractions and pushing forcefully on the top of my fundus, or Hannah’s butt if you want to think of it that way.
At 7:00pm on June 7th, my water broke during a pee-pee break right into the toilet. The waters were clear. I was elated. My mom predicted Hannah would be out by 9:30pm. Not so. With all the pre-labor/real-deal labor, my uterus was tired. So, it (my uterus) would have a go at extracting said wee-one, then take a break. In other words, though I was dilated to 9.5 cm’s with a slight lip, my contractions never became regular. Paulette was relaxed and unworried. She advised me to focus all of my energy downward – to lower my voice, visualize the ground opening up beneath me, and to breathe toward the center of the earth.
I bobbed around to different positions in the birth pool. Sometimes on my knees with legs spread wide. Sometimes leaning over the edge holding my husband’s hand while he read me scriptures. Sometimes floating back with my neck resting on the edge and my hands squeezing the convenient handholds. I ate some banana with peanut butter. I drank some electrolyte/vitamin water. I got out occasionally for Paulette to listen to Hannah’s heartbeat and to use the bathroom. I sang along to songs. I prayed. We all prayed. The work was painful, hard, and, by the time midnight rolled around, long.
I was really tired. More tired than I had ever been. But also alive, excited, nervous, and focused on the end goal. I wanted to meet my sweet girl and hold her. I instinctively reached into my cervix to feel the top of Hannah’s head. At first, the whole length of my index finger fit. After more work, the second knuckle. After more work, the very tip. I was focused. I was in a bit of a labor trance, cherishing every breath and hoping for the next breath and strength to push. My husband was tired and worried and wishing he could help more.
Hannah began to crown. Paulette had me lean back so she could see better and assist. For almost a half hour, her brown, waving hair would crown, then my uterus would quit, and her head would suck back in. It was both exhilarating and frustrating! Eventually, Paulette determined that perhaps more movement and the help of gravity would get things moving along. She suggested I get out and walk (yeah right!) over to our couch. With the help of my husband and mom, we somehow got my wet, contracting form over to the towels and blood pads Paulette had quickly spread on the couch.
I hated it. I didn’t want to be out of the nice, helpful water. I wanted a water birth. But more than anything, I wanted Hannah out of me! The new location did the trick. The extra discomfort woke my uterus back up. The contractions were stronger. Then, the olive oil came out. Paulette asked my mom to fill a peri-bottle with olive oil to help her stretch and massage my perineum. Hannah was anointed with oil before she breathed her first breath! After two peri-bottles full of oil and more pushing, Hannah’s head finally crowned.
At 3:27am, Paulette muttered something like, “We’ve got to get this baby out,” which suddenly worried me that there could be something wrong if I didn’t hurry up. On the next contraction, I gave ‘er all I had. Paulette noticed the contraction had stopped and told me to stop pushing. I just shook my head and kept bearing down. And, it worked. At 3:30am, the second phase of labor was over.
Hannah’s umbilical cord was too short to bring her to breast immediately, so we waited for it to stop pulsing. My husband cut the cord, and I clumsily latched Hannah for her first taste of nature’s best food.
The rest of the story is simple. No IV fluids. No foot pricks. No antibiotic goop in Hannah’s eyes. No obligatory trip to the nursery to check her vitals and give her the ole’ body temperature test. No HepB or VitaminK shots. Just nursing until my uterus expelled the placenta (all while balancing over the toilet – let me be the first to say it was bloody and not too comfortable for my tired body). I showered. My husband gave Hannah a spit bath after she was weighed and measured. He dressed her. Paulette examined me. We nursed. We ate a HUGE breakfast. Then, we all slept in our own beds. We were weary. We were home.
I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. I hope to have a homebirth for all the babies we may have in our future. There is nothing easy about natural labor. It’s not glamorous (I have pictures to prove it). The big point for me is that my body was made for labor, and I succeeded. A certain amount of pride and strength comes with that. After hearing more birth stories, I know home birth is not for everyone nor is it for every birthing occasion. I may need a baby-saving c-section someday. I may birth at a hospital. If you do not think home birth is your best choice, by all means, do not feel guilty or like less of a woman. If you do choose home birth or natural birth at a birthing center, know with absolute certainty that you can do it. Because, after all, I was crazy enough to do it on my first baby with no clue of what I was about to experience. I hope you enjoyed our story.