Hillary's Advent Home Birth with a Shoulder Dystocia
Updated: May 5, 2022
On November 10th, I was officially 37 weeks pregnant with my second child. That meant I could legally have my planned midwife-assisted home birth. Because I’d recently been having contractions that felt different from Braxton-Hicks, I asked my midwives to check my dilation. To my surprise and sadness, I wasn’t dilated at all. 0cm.
One of my midwives asked me to consider how I would feel if were pregnant another three weeks, all the way up until my due date of December 1st. I flat out told her it was unthinkable, there was no way, etc. etc. But I flippantly agreed to putting up my Christmas tree on that day if the impossible happened and I somehow hadn’t given birth by then.
For four more weeks, I experienced the most frustrating prodromal labor. Daily I experienced contractions, some painful, some that ramped up and started to look like real labor. Twice, on November 21st and 26th, my contractions developed into consistent and intense patterns, so I called the midwives to get the show on the road. Both times, my labor fizzled out and the midwives went home.
Still, they made me promise I would call as soon as I thought I was in labor again, because they were worried about getting to me in time since the closest midwife lived 45 minutes away. They also told me to stop trying to kickstart labor with too much exercise, spicy foods, or -ahem- afternoon delights, lest I aggravate my overexcitable uterus. Clearly, this baby was very happy and chill where he or she was.
On December 9th, I woke up at 2 a.m. with contractions. Now that was new. I lay in bed for two hours until the contractions got too strong to sleep through, then went downstairs to bake. If the contractions became too all-consuming, I’d call the midwives. Midway through lightly kneading a pie crust, I had a contraction that let me know I definitely was in labor.
So I texted the midwives, my parents (who were our go-to babysitters for our toddler, Marie-Therese), and I woke up my husband, Alex, so he knew he had to take the day off from work. I was finally having this baby, and I was nearly delirious with relief. My midwife asked me to reach out again whenever I “felt like I wanted company.”
A few hours later, I went upstairs to pray a rosary and focus on the contractions more, and that’s when everything slowed down. I started to only have three or four contractions an hour, as opposed to one every 4 minutes. My midwife texted me, asking how my pie was coming along. I tearfully told her I could probably make three or four more pies before this baby came, and that everything had stalled out, and that I clearly would be pregnant forever.
I don’t even remember how I spent the rest of that day. All I know is that labor never truly ended. Contractions, when they happened, were painful and sometimes over a minute long. We sent Marie-Therese over to my parents house anyways, convinced that we’d be calling the midwife any time.
But at 6 a.m. the next morning, December 10th, I woke up after a full night’s sleep and promptly sobbed in my husband’s arms.
By now, I was 41 weeks and 3 days pregnant. I had a prenatal appointment that morning, and my midwife Brenda met with a very sad, very pregnant lady. I was nine days over my due date, and if I didn’t go into labor that day, I’d be recommended another ultrasound to check on baby. I asked Brenda if there was ANYTHING I could do. She repeated that she didn’t want me to stress my clearly overexcitable uterus, but that castor oil or acupuncture would be the next step to get my labor to regulate and form more of a pattern. So I immediately drove to the health food store and bought some grade A, cold press castor oil.
After I took the very, very nasty substance, we went for a brisk family walk. The oil worked quickly, and I had to keep dancing through contractions every dozen feet or so. Anyone driving down Main Street must have laughed, seeing this hugely pregnant, bundled-up yeti lumbering through snow piles. By the time we got home, it was 3:30 and I knew I was definitely in labor again, so I left to tend to my contractions (and the other side effects of castor oil) alone.
In the bathroom, I really found my groove. Every contraction, I needed to lean over the sink, rock/bounce back and forth from one leg to the other, breathing like the little engine that could. I called down to Alex and ordered him to get Marie-Therese over to my parents house again. I called the midwife and told her she needed to get here now (no longer saying things like “maybe this is labor?”). I had a contraction over the phone, which Brenda listened to me chug and puff through. When I finished, she immediately said, “Yup. I’ll be leaving my house in five minutes.”
I hung out in our bathroom for a few hours, leaning and bouncing and breathing, getting lower into squats the longer I went. My two midwives, who had shown up so quietly I hadn’t even noticed, listened to baby’s heartbeat once or twice, but mostly preferred to wait in the spare bedroom. Eventually though, I started getting tired. I knew I needed to conserve my energy, since I had no idea how long labor would last. After all, I was in labor for 21 hours with Marie-Therese. Alex suggested I move to the bedroom to sit or lay down.
I spent a little time bouncing on an exercise ball before transitioning to kneeling on all fours on my bed. I was getting tired by then, so I quietly asked Alex to play a song. We’d recently discovered a bluegrass band, and I really wanted to hear their rendition of the Advent song, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Until this point in labor, I’d been working in silence. But there on the bed, I listened to their voices and the mournful sound of a violin flow over me.
“Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”
I sang in my head and mouthed the words, willing my own baby to come. “O Come, O come, baby,” I sang to him or her. It was a profoundly spiritual moment for me, sitting side by side with Mary in her own labor, suffering along with Christ on His own cross. I couldn’t have stopped the tears if I wanted to.
Finally, I noticed I had an urge to push. I pushed on my side for ten minutes before my midwives noticed baby didn't seem to be moving down. Sure enough, after a check, I was only 8cm. “You have to blow the push away,” my midwife told me.
I’d read enough Ina May Gaskin to know this was when the ‘horse lips’ came in. Thus passed the longest, most challenging half hour of my life. I wanted to push so badly. I felt pain then, and I can’t lie, I begged for it to be over. I pleaded with Alex, the midwives, and God Himself to take the pain away. But that didn’t work. In the midst of my laborland fog, I realized this was the time to embrace the cross God gave me and submit. During the next pause between contractions, I took a deep breath and offered up everything to the Lord. My water broke all over my poor midwife soon after and I nearly sobbed in relief. I had to be close.
Finally, Brenda offered to hold my cervix back for me during a contraction. When I was in labor with Marie-Therese, the cervical checks were more excruciating than the contractions themselves. But Brenda has the gentle hands of a true midwife, and two contractions later I was cleared to push.
I tried a few pushes on my side at first. But progress was very slow, and the other midwife, Acadia, suggested getting on the floor and standing/squatting the baby out. Anything to make this go faster I said in my head, and so we did. Alex remained kneeling on the bed, acting as my anchor and counterweight. When I had a contraction and squatted down, he gripped both my hands and let me pull on him. The sensation of hanging helped, and I made much faster progress.
Ten minutes later, Acadia and Brenda were behind me, all garbed up and ready to catch. I was so relieved to finally push my baby’s head out, but then Brenda’s voice took on a very authoritative, no-nonsense tone. “Hillary, I need you to do exactly what I say. Move this leg here. Ok, now push. Good, good. Again, but harder. HARDER HARDER HARDER HARDER! Push harder than you ever have in your life.”
I was still trying to figure out why she was so worried, since she’d been mellow and calm the entire time. Then, she told me she needed to insert her hand up behind baby’s head, and I felt a twist inside. Suddenly, my baby completely slipped out at 10:01pm, straight into Brenda’s hands.
“It’s John!” I shouted, grabbing a very purple and slippery baby from underneath me as both midwives began cleaning us off. “Alex, we have a son!”
Turns out, the problem had been some shoulder dystocia, a birth complication for either home birth or hospital providers. Luckily, since I was already on my feet and squatting, all it took was a slight shimmy inside, and Brenda (who has seen many of these in her 25 years of experience) was able to slip John’s left shoulder down under my pelvic bone to free him. No problem.
I did, however, have a very long, superficial first degree tear. For whatever reason, no anesthetic (either injected or topical) worked, and so after a failed repair attempt my midwife ordered me to have total bed rest for a week so I could heal naturally. This worked out in my favor, as it gave John and I plenty of time to bond.
John weighed a full two pounds more than his sister did at birth, 8 lbs. 4 oz. I was exhausted, but he wanted to nurse right away! Alex brought me a bowl of my pre-prepared “You Did It!” beef stew, and shortly after midnight the midwives went home. Compared to my previous hospital birth, it was weird being home alone in our house with no nurses to pester us. But soon, all three of us collapsed in sleep. The next morning, we introduced Marie-Therese to her baby brother, and our journey as a family of four began.
I thank God, for my birth, my family, and especially today, for little John. “The Almighty has done great things for me, and Holy is His name.”
This beautiful story comes from Hillary Swetz. Hillary is married to Alex and mother to Marie-Therese and John. She’s a stay at home mom who also runs the frugal living website HomegrownHillary.com, where she writes about motherhood, families, and how to save money on all of it.