Updated: May 5
I had my first baby at a birth center on August 15, 2021. I had such an incredibly empowering experience all thanks to switching my provider at 30 weeks. It was a hard decision but ultimately I had to make it to pursue my goal of a completely natural birth at a birth center rather than a traditional OB.
My pregnancy was hard not because of any complications but because I had lost a baby two weeks before getting pregnant with my current baby. Mentally I was very worried and anxious. However, I prepared well for birth, reading Made for This: The Catholic Mom's Guide to Birth, taking a Bradley method class, and talking with my 9 friends who were also pregnant in an incredible group chat.
Birth was the one part of the whole process about which I was not anxious. That is, I wasn't until I went past my estimated due date. Not just a few days past but almost two weeks. I did everything I could to go into labor. I walked MILES, ate dates, drank raspberry leaf tea, and ate spicy food. Nothing worked and it was one of the hardest times of my life. As I went later than my mom and sister-in-law both had, I really began to feel alone in this experience. When my friends who were due AFTER me started giving birth I felt even more alone. I began to worry that I would have to be induced at 42 weeks as per birth center protocol.
When I was 41+5 days I knew it was now or never so I started the castor oil protocol from my midwife. It worked and my water broke that evening. I remember the feeling of jubilation when I had realized what had happened. Labor sped up more quickly than I ever imagined and it was only 4 hours before I knew instinctively it was time to go to the birth center. My contractions were never regular and timing them did no good but I was so in tune with my body that I just instinctively knew what I needed. So we called my midwife and got into the car to make the long trek. I only had 3 contractions the whole hour drive to the birth center in pouring rain.
When I got there, things became regular and I lay on the bed and rested between contractions while my husband pushed my back and the pressure points in my hands during contractions. Contractions for me were sharp pains similar to gas pains. It was 3 more hours that way but it felt like 15 minutes. I was thankful for intermittent monitoring, not having to undergo a single vaginal check, and the dark, relaxing atmosphere. Around 4 a.m. I got up from the bed instinctively in indescribable pain. I just thought, "I can't do this for 10 more hours!" I also demanded that I get into the tub. I'm not sure why I had not remembered the tub was there until that moment! It was clear to everyone except me that I was going through transition. Thanks to the Bradley class we had taken, my husband was aware of what was happening. He told me later he was scared I would ask to be transferred to the hospital for an epidural at that moment. The truth was that even though I was in pain, my laboring mind was limited in such a way that I didn't remember that an epidural even existed. That, I believe, is the power of a home birth or birth center birth. Women are stronger at enduring when endurance is their only option!
A minute or two after I got off of the bed, I suddenly felt myself bearing down and I told the midwife I was pushing. Once again I was grateful for my natural birth education to know what was happening. It was so very clear to me right away that I was fully dilated and ready to push. My pain pattern changed instantly and I felt almost no pain in between the most intense pushing contractions. I immediately sat in the tub with my husband and he continued to administer counter pressure while I pushed. The nurse hurried to administer GBS antibiotics through an IV in between contractions. My labor has progressed quicker than expected so they wanted to get them into my system before the baby came. I rested in between pushes and pushed as hard as I could when contractions came. I asked my midwife how I could push better and she told me I was doing everything perfectly. Unlike what is pictured in the movies or when a woman has an epidural, no one had to tell me when or how to push. I knew exactly when was the best time and screamed to help me push harder.
I continued to push on my knees, leaning against the side of the tub until I felt the baby's head. Once it was clear the baby was coming my midwife had me lay back more so she could catch the baby and I gave the biggest push of all and a slippery baby came out! We had not learned the gender before so the midwife asked me, "What is it?" Seeing the umbilical cord hanging down I said, "A boy!" but I was later corrected since I had actually just had a daughter!
I held the baby sitting in the tub for a few minutes and she only cried a little bit. I just said hello and remarked on how cute she was! I had expected to be acting completely strange in this moment as the exhausted women do in movies. But I had only labored for 9 hours so I was not tired and I felt more myself than I had in 9 months. I was just happy, calm, and excited. My midwife helped me walk to the bed from the tub and birth the placenta while my daughter tried to nurse from my husband. I was told I only had a tiny tear that did not need stitches. I was so happy, looking at my adorable baby and thinking about the incredible thing I had just done!
I truly have never felt so proud and happy in my life. I also had not felt so good physically for a long time. My daughter nursed right away and stayed awake almost the entire day just looking around at the new world. We named her Saoirse which means freedom in Irish. I had lost more blood than normal and I fainted when I tried to get to the bathroom but two bags of IV fluid helped the situation.
After resting and enjoying our baby, we were able to go home the exact same day she was born and sleep in our own bed. I am truly grateful for God's mercy to me in giving me a better birth than I had even dreamed. I was prepared for 20 hours of labor at least and I did not care how long it would take as long as I was able to labor at the birth center and give birth to a beautiful baby.
I would definitely recommend to any woman who is dissatisfied with her provider to make the switch to a new one as soon as possible. I am sure I would have been forced into an induction I did not need if I had continued with my provider. Make the best decision for you and your baby even if it means more paperwork and trouble than it otherwise would have. Also, you are capable of more than you think. Never doubt your instincts and God's providence!
Mary Scanlon is a stay at home mom who lives in VA with her husband Sean and baby Saoirse (seershuh). She graduated from a Catholic college in 2019 and has taught at 3 different Catholic schools. She looks forward to homeschooling her future children and implementing Montessori methods at home.