Homebirth - Karen's Story

Journey to Homebirth
by Karen
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     My first child, David, was pulled out of me by an HMO doctor who, I suspected, wanted to get home after a long day. I was a week past my due date and had found blood in the toilet early that a..m. We panicked and headed straight for the hospital. I was hooked up to a fetal monitor and the nurse said "Congrats, today’s your baby’s birthday-- you’re in labor!" The doctor arrived at noon and decided to bring on the pitocin to speed things along. A short time later, he broke my water at 2 cm. This was unbelievably painful. He was impatient and it took several tries for him to break my water. I yelled, and Joe nearly passed out just from watching me in pain. At 8:30 that night, never having dilated past 2 cm, the doctor decided it was time for an "emergency" (I discovered this word on my medical records four years later) cesarean. I should add that my husband and I are deaf, but the word "emergency" never came up in our conversation with the doctor. We even had an interpreter with us. The so-called emergency took place an hour later.

     As far as cesareans go, we had a "good" one. My friend, Cassie, interpreted and videotaped the whole thing and firmly advocated so that they brought David to me immediately. The anesthesiologist kept one hand free so that I could touch my son. I did have a bad reaction to the epidural and completely lost the rest of my hearing so that I couldn’t hear anything even with my hearing aid on. (The little hearing I have returned after the epidural wore off). I also ended up with red welts on my legs and itched for days. The doctor just shrugged and said I must be having a reaction to the hospital sheets!!

     After the excitement and good feelings began to wear off, the disappointment set in. I started doubting the doctor’s reasoning for doing a cesarean. Whenever I talked to someone who had a vaginal birth, I felt such a pang of loss. All of my life, I had looked forward to having children and never imagined having a cesarean.

     I began searching for a "better" doctor after I became pregnant with Lauren. The name, Dr. W. kept coming up from friends and the nurses in my mother’s group. At my first appointment, he spent an hour with me and was friendlier than any doctor I had before. As for VBAC, he said, "Sure, we can give it a try." What I didn’t know and failed to ask, was that he had a 50% c-section rate.

     Two weeks before my due date, Dr. W. mentioned that he only does inductions on Mondays. (The first alarm bell goes off.) Next, he scheduled me to be induced on my due date. He thought that this baby would be bigger than my first (David was 9 lbs. 2 oz.). I was very uneasy about being induced and canceled the induction at the last minute. At my next appointment, Dr. W. expressed his disapproval, saying that the longer I waited, the greater my chances would be to have another cesarean. I reluctantly scheduled the induction for the following Monday. Alarm bells were going off in my head like crazy.

     My heart was so heavy when I arrived at the hospital. To make a long story short, I ended up with the exact same interventions that I experienced at David’s birth. The only difference was this time, Dr. W. spent some time trying to manually dilate my cervix. I held off on the epidural for 12 hours. I was so nauseated, I heaved on and off for five hours.

     The cesarean itself, was totally unlike David’s. The anesthesiologist refused to cooperate and strapped me down. I protested and tried to explain about being able to communicate with Joe. I couldn’t even sign to my husband. To make matters worse, he added Droperidol to the IV and that made me feel like I was in a daze. The epidural again caused me to completely lose the rest of my hearing so that I couldn’t hear a thing, even with my hearing aid on. My lips became so swollen that Joe could not lipread anything that I said. I was so drugged and felt defeated. I didn’t feel any emotion when Joe told me "It’s a girl." It took me two hours to come out of my drugged stupor and get my first clear look at my daughter.

    Three weeks after Lauren’s birth, depression set in. I knew my feelings were related to Lauren’s birth, but I couldn’t organize my thoughts or talk about my feelings. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t happy with the fact that I had two healthy, beautiful children instead of mourning the way they came into the world. Whenever the subject of births would come up, I found it difficult to listen to other people’s birth stories. I also found it difficult to talk about the cesareans. I went to see the nurse at the doctor’s office. She said it was the postpartum blues and it would soon pass. It didn’t.

     Three months later, I hit rock bottom. I was depressed, withdrawn and doing the bare minimum to function as a wife and mother. Joe and I were bickering often. I was sleeping a lot and some of my thoughts were not pleasant ones. On the surface, I seemed okay and no one, but my husband, suspected a thing.

     At the same time, a good friend had a VBAC with her doctor’s encouragement. She was sure she would have another cesarean. When I heard the news, I sat down and cried. I was jealous. I was angry. I realized that I needed help.

     I found help through the local ICAN (International Cesarean Awareness Network) group and started attending meetings. I began reading books on VBAC and got a copy of "SilentKnife" from the library. The first breakthrough was the night I woke up from a very vivid dream. In the dream, I was being wheeled into the operating room , screaming silent screams. I got off the gurney, ran into a shower room and gave birth naturally. When I woke up, I was covered in sweat and shaking. I realized how powerless I felt about the cesareans. Later, I sat down and wrote a long letter to Dr. W. The first of the anger finally came out and I felt very good after writing it. This was a major step toward the healing process. I gave him the letter at my next physical. After he read the letter, he said my body was designed for a six or seven pound baby and that my pelvis was simply too narrow for my larger babies. He said for me to give birth would be like fitting a square peg into a round hole. We talked for an hour and half, sometimes not so pleasantly. This visit was an eye-opener´┐ŻI felt devastated, yet empowered when I left his office and I believe he truly learned something from our talk.

     I became pregnant with Steven shortly after that. This time, I was determined to be more careful in my choice of caregivers. I started visiting different hospitals, hoping that a different one would feel more comfortable. As soon as I walked into the birthing rooms, I froze. I took one look at the monitors and all the bad feelings from the cesareans came floating back.

     Laurie, a doula from the ICAN group, suggested the idea of having this baby at home. I gave her all the reasons I couldn’t: what if something happens, what if I couldn’t handle the pain, etc. I even told her that I liked the idea of being pampered in the hospital, having a nurse wait on me. She explained that I would have to take responsibility for this birth, whether at home or the hospital. This idea was new to me, as I previously saw the doctor as having all the responsibility.

     The more I read, the more I thought about it, the more the idea of a homebirth appealed to me. I began to realize that it was the only way that I could freely make choices about this birth and my highest chance for a VBAC. I started reading "Open Season" by Nancy Wainer Cohen and began corresponding with her. What really convinced me was a book called "Hard Labor." In this book, a nurse who worked in labor and delivery for years, experienced a relative’s homebirth and was convinced that this was the way babies were meant to come into the world. Ah ha, I thought, if a member of the medical profession advocated homebirth, there surely must be something to it. I started doing visualizations, and every time I tried to visualize the birth, I kept turning to my bedroom during the visualizations. I realized that I wanted to birth this baby in the safety and comfort of my own home. Joe was apprehensive, but supportive of the idea.

     After interviewing many caregivers, we settled on a CNM who advertised traditional midwifery. I went back to Dr. W. to see if he would agree to backup my CNM. I didn’t want to start another relationship with the CNM’s OB who was located at a hospital far from my home. Dr. W. Did not support the idea at first. But after a long discussion, he agreed to provide backup and ended our visit with a hug and lots of encouragement.
During my sixth month, the CNM and I had a disagreement about VBAC issues and could not see eye to eye on this birth. She was not very positive about VBAC and felt that I had a lot of issues to work out. I was merely looking for reassurance and she felt that I was not ready for a homebirth and should look into a hospital birth instead.
Joe and I decided then to go with a homebirth practice with several doctors and a high VBAC success rate. I liked the doctors, but part of me wanted a midwife’s touch for this birth. Everything that I had read about midwifery appealed to me.

     During my correspondance with Nancy Wainer Cohen, the author of Silent Knife and Open Season, she helped ease my apprehension about homebirth and gave me the support and encouragement I needed when I was in doubt. She encouraged me to talk to my baby to help me figure out what I needed for this birth. During one conversation, she suggested that I get in touch with Valerie, a midwife from Dearborn, Michigan, who could fly or drive out for the birth. I thought the idea was quite farfetched, (Dearborn was 6 hours away from my home) but something made me call her. I liked her immediately.
I continued to get my prenatal care with the homebirth doctors since I was comfortable with their practice. During my 8
month, Joe and I drove out to meet Valerie and another midwife, Kathy, at The Birth Center in Dearborn. We spent three hours at the Center. The baby was breech and Valerie turned him easily (although it was uncomfortable for me!). She taught me things about my body and the baby that no other caregiver had done. When we left, I knew that I wanted to have this birth with Valerie and Kathy. Joe felt the same way.

     A few weeks before my due date, my mother-in-law (who wasn’t too keen on this homebirth thing) gave me a prayer card with St. Therese on it. This saint answers prayers with a "shower of roses." Whenever I would visualize the birth, I would add a prayer to St. Therese for help in making this birth happen.

     Valerie and Kathy arrived early in the afternoon two days after my due date. As soon as I saw them, I started to bawl. I was just a bundle of nerves, knowing that our months of preparation had come down to this day. Both of them reassured me and reminded me that I was going to actually have this baby!

     I had been having a few contractions but they were very mild and far apart. Earlier that morning, I had lost some baby "gel." Valerie started a pot of chicken soup (definitely much better than an IV!) and I rested on the bed. She came in to talk with me and out of the blue, mentioned that she had received a dozen red roses before she left. Suddenly, I felt a strange sense of calm come over me. From that moment on, I felt a wonderful sense of peace. This was my sign that everything was going to be just fine.

     The three of us went for a long walk while my husband worked around the house. We stopped to look at model homes and Valerie announced to the sales lady "She’s in labor." It was pretty funny to see her mouth drop open.

     Despite the walking, the contractions really didn’t pick up. Valerie took a look at my abdomen and figured out that the baby wasn’t quite positioned well enough to dilate the cervix. Every time I was upright, the baby would float back out of the pelvis. I laid on the bed and she propped my hips up under several pillows. This made me quite nauseous but it worked. I dilated to about 3 cm.

     We sat down to dinner and the chicken soup was delicious. My next door neighbor came over with one of her triplets and chatted with us. The contractions were still mild and manageable. After dinner, I hopped in our soaking tub (Joe had ripped out our tub and installed the new tub just a short time ago!), lit some candles and read a book. Joe continued to put the new tile down on the floor. Labor was a piece of cake so far.

     Everyone else went to bed and I dozed in the tub. Then the harder contractions started with a bang. Suddenly, I wasn’t smiling anymore. Valerie came in and poured water with every contraction. The rest of the night I alternated between the tub, bed and recliner. At one point, I cursed every friend who had a short labor. At 7 cm, I found it much harder to deal with the contractions. I could feel the bag of waters bulging out with every contraction. I was hoping it would break so that things would pick up. I sat on the toilet and pushed to try to get the sac to break. Finally, Valerie massaged the sac and it broke. The contractions were harder and closer from that point on. I started feeling really sick and Kathy ran to get a saucepan. By 9 cm, I felt like I was "losing it." I kneeled on the floor and leaned over on the bed to try and get comfortable. My back was hurting pretty bad and for one brief moment, I desperately thought of going to the hospital and getting an epidural. Instead, I got a nice back massage with vanilla-scented lotion and some counterpressure to deal with the pain.

     I felt no urge to push, but they decided to get me started. Valerie announced to Joe that she felt a hand coming with the head. Thank goodness, no one told me at the time. The pushing was slow and I even dozed off between pushes (I was pretty tired at this point!) but the baby was moving down.

     After about 45 minutes, Kathy grabbed my hand and placed it on top of the baby’s head. That’s when it hit me, my gosh, I really am going to have a baby! All this time, I was concentrating so hard on dealing with the pain, that I forgot it’s purpose. At 9:49 a.m., Kathy took our hands and we reached down for our baby. That is the moment that will always be etched in my mind, pulling my son up on my chest and seeing him for the first time. Realizing that the birth we worked so hard for, was a reality. My husband was all smiles. I felt so unbelievably happy. This was what it was all about. This was the piece that was missing all along. I looked at Valerie and Kathy, who had attended so many births, and was surprised to see them wiping their eyes. They worked hard to make this birth special for us and we will always cherish them.

     Steven Michael weighed 9 lbs, had a 14 inch head and came out with his hand alongside of his head. Too small pelvis???? I think not!

     After an hour, Joe called his mom to give her the wonderful news. She hung up the phone and went to let the dog outside. Just then, the sun broke through the clouds and shone right down on the statue of St. Therese in her backyard.

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