I think it's important to begin by saying that I grew up in a very typical American household; my family ate a standard American diet and we didn't practice any kind of alternative medicine. I never heard the word “homebirth” growing up, and even if I had, I would have never considered it as something desirable. In my mind, babies were born in hospitals, and the presence of pain- numbing drugs were necessary for this process to happen. By the time I got married and became pregnant with my first child, my mind had changed on a few things. My hope was to have a natural, intervention free birth. My husband had come from a similar background as me, and the idea of a birthing center made him very uncomfortable, so we decided that the hospital would be the place where we would have this baby. I wanted to work with a midwife and do a birthing center birth, but at the time I figured that I would get one birth under my belt before going down that route.
I experienced what I imagine most women undergo when it comes to prenatal care in this country. I worked with a whole team of OBs, getting maybe 5 or 10 minute appointments with people who didn’t know a thing about me. It was very impersonal, and I usually left the appointments feeling a lack of confidence in myself and in my ability to give birth. When I mentioned that I wanted to do an unmedicated birth, I got the discouraging response of; “Sure, we can try that. But just know that most women end up getting an epidural.” By the time I reached 40 weeks, there was already talk of induction, despite me being perfectly healthy and having signs of labor beginning on its own. Induction was something I knew I wanted to avoid, but eventually I was convinced that it was the right thing to do.
At 41 weeks we went in for a scheduled induction. I knew that it was medically unnecessary, but at the time I didn't have the confidence to fight my case. The doctor broke my water, and very soon contractions were coming heavy and hard. After hours of agonizing contractions that weren't progressing my labor, I finally broke down and asked for an epidural. Several hours later my son was born, coming very close to an emergency C-section and having to be vacuum extracted. He was limp and not breathing on his own. His cord was immediately cut, and he was whisked away to the NICU. I was left in that room feeling utterly defeated, spent, and emotionally numb. During our stay in the hospital I half-heartedly tried to nurse my son, but did not feel bonded to him, and all I really wanted to do was to rest and let other people take care of him. I was very sore and tired for some time, but was unable to get much rest in the hospital. Because of our time apart, nursing was very difficult, and I had to undergo weeks of pumping and bottle-feeding. Miraculously, my son started nursing at 3 weeks old, and I finally began to feel some confidence in myself as a mother. I knew that when we got pregnant again I wanted to do things differently.
When we became pregnant with our second child, I made an appointment with a local birthing center and began my prenatal care. While the care was much more personal, I realized that I wanted to hire an independent midwife who did not have to follow protocols and guidelines of a more mainstream birth center. I knew that if I was going to have the unmedicated birth that I wanted, I would have to be in a place where I was completely comfortable. So after a little convincing, I managed to get my husband on board, and we began preparing to have this baby at home.
At 30 weeks I transferred into the care of Christine at Redemption Midwifery. After the first appointment with Christine, which was in my own home, I knew that I had made the right choice. She made it very clear that while the baby's safety came first, she believed that parents shouldn’t be pressured by their providers, and needed to make informed decisions. We ultimately had the last say in all choices regarding this birth. I also hired a lovely doula named Maggie Grevas (Visitation Birth Doula). I knew that this experience would be very different from my last one, and I wanted to do everything I could to prepare myself for whatever may happen.
So with confidence in my birth team, with new knowledge gained from reading and from my past experience, and by listening to many, many positive birth stories (shout-out to the Happy Homebirth Podcast!), I finally felt ready to take on the hard work of labor. Ultimately, I knew that even if my strengths failed me, the Lord would not. The most important thing I did to prepare for this birth was to decide to surrender the birth to Jesus, and to put it all in his hands. Leading up to the birth, I did the Surrender Novena and it gave me immense peace.
Finally, at 41 + 1, after a wonderful day spent with family, my water broke. My husband and I quickly jumped into action, got the birth pool blown up, and double-made the bed. I called Christine and Maggie and they both reminded me to try to get some rest. I didn't. I labored through the night, laying down as much as I could. Contractions slowly picked up, and by 7 a.m. they were coming a few minutes apart and were lasting about a minute. My sister-in-law took our son to my parents' house, and the birth team arrived shortly afterwards. As these things often go, my labor basically stopped once everyone got there. Contractions spaced out to about 15 minutes apart, and it stayed that way for the next 4 or 5 hours. Before noon, my Midwife and I had a conversation and we decided that since I had tested GBS positive, and my water had been broken for about 12 hours, it would be wise to try to get things started again. I confessed to her that I was holding back mentally, and that I really just needed to focus and allow my body to do what it was made to do. At this point I got in the shower, clutched my rosary, and totally gave the birth over to the Lord. Afterwards we discussed some options, and I begrudgingly decided to take castor oil as a way to get contractions going again. I knew that I needed to go “all in” and do whatever it took to get the baby to come.
Maggie and I did a few maneuvers in the next hour to try to get the baby in an optimal position, and then the castor oil kicked in and brought with it all of the lovely symptoms that castor oil brings. It did do the trick though, and my contractions started coming back more regularly. At 3 p.m., Christine told me that we needed to do the second dose of castor oil (much to my dismay). I choked it down, and within an hour my contractions were coming about 4 minutes apart and were getting much stronger. At exactly the right moment, Christine suggested that we fill up the birth pool, and as soon as we did this I was very ready to get into it. The relief was immediate, and there was about an hour where I was able to fully relax into the contractions as I floated in the water. It was actually somewhat enjoyable, and there were times where I felt like I could fall asleep.
After that initial hour things really picked up, and I knew at that point we were close to having a baby. All speaking ceased, and for the next hour or so I did my best to surrender to the surges as my birth team kept me hydrated. Contractions were probably coming every 1 to 2 minutes and they were very strong, to the point where I started to think that I couldn’t endure much longer. However, God draws near to those who are suffering, and through His grace I was able to keep a positive mindset and pray through the powerful surges.
When it did come time to push, I didn't need to be coached because my body told me exactly what I needed to do. I changed positions multiple times and finally found one that felt right. Pushing was exhausting. It took every ounce of strength that I had. Yet being able to move as I needed to made me feel much more in control. When I finally felt the head coming, Christine gave me some coaching on how to breathe so that the baby wouldn't come out too fast. After about a total of 30 minutes of pushing, surrounded only by trusted companions and in the peace of my own home, I finally reached that glorious moment where the baby’s head came out, with the body following in the next contraction.
I cannot describe the relief and euphoria of this moment; all pain and discomfort ceased immediately, and I had the joy of watching my baby, eyes fully open, come up through the water and into my arms. She calmly looked around as I held her, and we did a little bit of stimulation as well as a few breaths. This whole process was very calm, and I didn't feel nervous for a second. (Had we been in the hospital, there's a good chance that her cord would have been immediately cut, and she would have been brought over to the infant station to be assessed and resuscitated.)
Once we were sure that the baby was breathing on her own, we decided it would be best to get over to the bed to deliver the placenta. Because it wasn't coming on its own after 30 minutes, Christine thought it was best that, supported by my team, I squat in order to deliver it. I really wasn't in any mood to get up, but I knew that we needed to get the placenta out. So supported by my husband, I stood next to the bed and delivered the placenta in less than a minute. That was the end of all the drama!
My husband got some skin to skin time with our new baby while I showered. Afterward we lounged in bed, just marveling at our new daughter, as the team brought us food and cleaned up the room. Once the midwife and her assistant did all of the necessary newborn tests and assessments, they went on their way. My recovery was so much better than the first time; I didn't tear, and other than some expected soreness, I really wasn't all that uncomfortable in the days following. I didn't need to take anything stronger than arnica and Afterease. Those few hours of intense discomfort were so worth it for such a beautiful outcome. I can't recommend home birth highly enough.
What struck me most of all about this whole experience is that there was never a moment during my long labor that I felt doubt in my birth team or in myself. I certainly felt some anxiety about the idea of pushing a baby out, but I knew that the Lord was with me and that I would be able to do it in the end. I have never felt such resolve to do something so difficult in my life.
For any women looking for advice about birth; first, know that you were truly made to do this. No matter what type of birth you desire, with knowledge of your options and with the right team, you will be able to do it no matter how difficult it is. If you decide to have your baby in a hospital, know that you need to take responsibility for the birth and make the final decisions for yourself and your baby. Don't let fear or anxiety (or other people!) make your decisions for you. Place your trust in the Lord, and know that He will not allow anything to happen to you without His willing it. And lastly, consider giving home birth a try! You’ll be blown away by how beautifully your body can birth when it is left undisturbed!
Mary is a homemaker and fitness enthusiast who lives with her husband, two children, and dog in the lovely state of Virginia. You can find her on Instagram @fiat.fit, where she posts about prenatal and postpartum fitness, as well as general life as a Catholic homemaker, wife, and mother. She highly recommends checking out @visitationbirthdoula on Instagram, as well as Redemptionmidwifery.com.