Background: My first birth was a classic 32 hour hospital induction with the cascade of interventions. I had complications that left me in pain for months and required surgical repair, and I had trauma that took a long time to process. A peaceful hospital birth can be attainable, but I didn’t know what to expect and I was unprepared with that first birth for the level of advocacy necessary to have a trauma-informed, patient-led birth in a hospital setting. I knew for my second pregnancy that I did not want to birth in a hospital again, so we opted for the only birth center in our area, and that experience was beautiful and healing. The birth center felt like a perfect middle ground because it was homey and comfortable, the midwives seemed more open to patient collaboration, but they had a working relationship with the hospital that made transfer more seamless if necessary. For this new pregnancy, we had moved too far out from the birth center to birth there again. We discerned that home birth was our best option, even though I had always been a little nervous about the idea and the possibility of complications because I knew very little about it. All I knew was what I’d heard, things like: “Birth can go south so quickly. If something goes wrong you need to have the option of an emergency C-section,” or “Baby’s safety is the most important thing; you wouldn’t want to risk their life just so you can have a certain type of birth.” The pregnancy before this one had ended in a devastating loss. The idea of putting our baby at risk was heavy on my heart, but I also didn’t feel safe returning to the hospital either, so I prayed for peace and tried to surrender my anxiety about it. I trusted that there had to be a way to have a safe birth that was also free of needless traumatic interventions and allowed my body to do what it needed to in a peaceful environment. I was blown away by the level of care I received from my home midwife. She was more thorough and up-to-date on current evidence and guidelines than any OB or midwife I had seen previously. She took her time to get to know me, my family, and our needs and preferences. She patiently walked me through each of the scenarios that had been weighing on me, every possible complication I could come up with. She reassured me of all the tools, medications, and techniques she had at her disposal to take care of the vast majority of issues that can arise like shoulder dystocia and hemorrhage. She showed me her transfer rates and statistics. I saw that the bulk of her patients who transfer to the hospital during labor do so non-emergently due to things like exhaustion or extensive tearing that needs surgical repair, not often a time-sensitive rush to the hospital because the baby’s life is in danger.
This was all an enormous relief to me, as was seeing firsthand how vigilant she was during my pregnancy to make sure that baby and I were in the best health possible leading up to delivery. I had never had a provider work with me so closely on diet, supplements, lifestyle changes, and natural ways to handle the discomforts associated with pregnancy. I truly felt like she was part of our family by the time I went into labor, as she had entered our home and spent time with all of us, talking about the intimate details of labor and birth and nurturing my body and spirit so tenderly.
Birth Story: At 40 weeks, like countless women before and after me, I sat on my couch and blubbered to the midwife that I was exhausted and ready to be done with this pregnancy. She listened, comforted me, and spoke about the beauty and pain in the surrender of control that is present in giving birth. She encouraged me to release my thoughts about timing, go on a date with my husband, and do everything I could to get restful sleep that night. We went out to dinner on a whim after she left. We then went to bed early and I woke up to a strong surge at 1 a.m.
I tried to sleep through the waves that were coming irregularly, but got up at 4:30 when they were so strong that I couldn’t lie down any longer. I noted bloody show after using the restroom. When my family woke up, I packed a bag for my older kids and sent them off at around 8 a.m. to stay with my mom. Contractions were coming about 15 minutes apart, though I was coping well with calm breathing, swaying, and intentional relaxation at the peak of each wave.
I let my midwife know that I thought I was in early labor, then my husband and I got down to business setting up the pool, preparing the birth space, and spending the day together. My long breaks between contractions made it feel like another date. We watched movies, chatted, had a quiet lunch, and enjoyed some quality time together before the big transition of the newborn stage. As the hours went on, the surges were regular and getting more intense, but by 6:30 p.m. they were still around 8-10 minutes apart, which is normal for my unmedicated labors.
My midwife came by to see how I was doing, and I asked her to check me because I feared that I was coping so well with the discomfort that it couldn’t be actual labor. She found that I was 7 cm dilated and stretching to complete during surges, so she decided to call her assistant and stay. The atmosphere was incredibly peaceful. They whispered as they did puzzles and knit at the dining table while I talked with my husband on the couch, leaning over the side of the empty birth pool to vocalize and breathe through the waves as they came. Over the next few hours, I changed positions, got in and out of the shower with my husband providing counter pressure, and laid in my quiet bedroom to rest with a peanut ball. An intimate calm fell over the house.
At about 1:30 a.m., I got into the birth pool and floated through the waves, finally entering that focused state of labor where I no longer wanted to talk after a contraction. Time seemed to stand still as I leaned on the side of the pool and my husband and birth team rested on the couch an arm’s length away. It felt as if the world was softly stretching to accommodate the new life entering it on this early October morning.
After an hour or so, the water had cooled to a temperature that was no longer suitable for birth, and my husband continually pouring in hot water wasn’t raising it. My midwife suggested moving into the bedroom when I let her know that I was feeling ready to push. I got into the bed and tried pushing, but something changed and I started to feel an indescribable pain during every surge that was different from my other unmedicated labor, and the urge to push evaporated. I tried a few times to push anyway, but the pain made me stop.
Though I had been calm to this point, the white hot pain in my pelvis made me panic and say, “Something is wrong. This isn’t normal.” The midwife took what I said to heart. While she had mostly been an observer in the natural birth process until now, she examined me and determined that there must be a positioning issue that needed correction. She instructed her student assistant to perform an abdominal lift and tuck, where the belly is physically lifted up and back, guiding the baby correctly into the pelvis. It was an intense moment, but once she did this, the unnatural pain during contractions instantly stopped, and I once again felt only the typical labor pressure and could breathe again. I climbed back in bed at 4:30 a.m. with surges 3 minutes apart, and finally, I was making real progress. I continued laboring on the bed until I felt like I needed the help of gravity, and we transitioned to a lunge on the floor with my arms around my husband’s neck for support. At this point, I was tired after laboring for so long, and still shaken from the pain that baby’s poor positioning had caused, so between each surge, I cried out “Jesus help me!” Like an explosion, my water broke all over my husband, and my body took over.
I allowed the fetal ejection reflex to do all the work until the head was born, but the body wasn’t following. My midwife calmly said, “We need to change positions.” It felt as if someone whispered to me that something was wrong and I needed to do everything I could for baby to be born quickly. So when she spread my legs further apart, I pushed with all my might, not pausing or waiting for a contraction. Dominic was then born at 6:34 a.m. His cord was wrapped around his neck and his chest like a seatbelt, and though it felt like he took forever to pink up and cry, he never needed resuscitation and latched immediately as I waited to birth the placenta and repair a second degree tear that resulted from pushing so hard and fast.
After the placenta was out, I was given Pitocin to manage a minor hemorrhage, and then tucked into bed with the baby, where the midwife then explained what had happened. When his head was born, he could not turn so that his body could follow because his shoulder was caught behind my pelvis. When she helped to reposition my legs, she reached up and swiftly freed it with her hand, so gently I couldn’t even feel it, before he was born with the next push. Though this was an intense moment, her demeanor was so calm that my husband, who was right there holding me upright, had no idea that anything was amiss until after the baby was born and took a few seconds to cry.
I told her about my moment of clarity where I felt as if I was being told to push as hard as I could, and she reminded me that while she was there to watch and guide, it was me who had done all the work of birthing this baby through his tricky positioning and shoulder dystocia. This was an incredibly powerful moment for me.
Until then it had always felt as if birth was something that happened to me, with providers prodding and manipulating my body into doing what it was supposed to, rather than being peaceful witnesses and facilitating the safest way for my body to do what it already knew how and was strong enough to do. I realized in awe that the two complications that had been at the forefront of my mind as I worried about the safety of home birth had actually happened. Not only were they handled quickly and safely, but they were also without any feelings of lingering fear and trauma. My first birth, which had been celebrated as a “success” by the doctors and nurses who had invalidated, ignored, and humiliated me had taken years to process and heal from, yet this birth that encompassed multiple risk factors and even the reasons I was told not to have a home birth was the most spiritual experience of my life. The realization that I was at the helm during the entire labor healed any wounds that remained through the last five years since my first traumatic birth. Though I did all the hard physical work, I believe that Jesus heard my cries for His help. He not only came to comfort and suffer with me, but whispered encouragement that guided my baby safely into my arms. In those silent seconds after Dominic was placed in my hands before he cried, I was not afraid. I was surrounded by a competent team who calmly knew exactly what to do and didn’t show any signs of distress as well as the peaceful, unseen presence of Jesus Himself, who will always come when called.
Kendall Lane married her college sweetheart and is now a homeschooling stay-at-home-mom of three lively boys in a small town outside of Nashville. When she’s not sweeping under the dining table, she enjoys knitting baby clothes, reading fantasy novels, and attempting to train her standard poodle.