Pittsburgh Home Birth Story 2021
Welp, it has been a long time coming., but, dang, birth is a process and definitely takes some mental and physical healing afterwards. Not to mention, sleep isn't really happening around here, so I am doing what I can every day. You get it. But holy cow, I had such a TREMENDOUS Pittsburgh birth team, and I couldn't not acknowledge them and their part of our journey. Before we even got pregnant this time around, I knew I wanted to have a home birth. I had such a traumatic and unsupported first birth experience and could not imagine going through that again. As soon as I knew we were pregnant, I was on the hunt for a midwife. It is really sad that PA has such ridiculous restrictions on home birth midwives, making the choices for birthing women very limited. Luckily, I ended up with an amazing group called New Mercies Midwifery, and fell in love with my midwife. Monthly she would visit my home, in the evening so that Joel could even be there (he never got to go to an appointment for Eliza). That allowed Eliza to even be a part of the journey. She watched me get my blood pressure taken, blood drawn, and belly checked with so much interest, she eventually would join in and do the same check ups on mom and dad, without flinching. She was even allowed to try out the stethoscope herself. Like seriously, so much love and trust there. The appointments were an hour or more, just chatting about the pregnancy, mental health, questions, life, and crazy toddler tales. I trusted the process every step of the way and tried my best to keep my body aligned and prepared, through stretching, exercise, and monthly (eventually weekly) visits to my favorite girl, Bethany, at B Well Chiropractic. She is the bomb. Go see her now. I also obsessively listened to every single home birth podcast out there and took tons of vitamins (I had to make myself a checklist to make sure I took everything daily). It was a lot, but so worth it to me. I also had my prenatal meetings with my doula, Lisa, from Golden Lotus Doulas. She was so attentive and had tons of awesome and practical information for us. Eliza loved her and wanted to play with her every time she visited. My hope with a doula was to have someone to help Joel know what to do and to press the living heck out of my back, since I had rough sauce back labor the first time around. Golden Lotus Doulas are angels. Just saying.
OKAY, anyway...so with Eliza, I never had the chance to go into labor on my own. I had no clue what that would feel like. I was very well acquainted with Braxton Hicks contractions to the point that I felt like I was just having one big one all day long for the entire month leading up to Finn's birth. But, since Eliza was in no rush to come out, I kept it in my head that he would also be fashionably late. I didn't get any cervical checks leading up to labor or use any kind of interventions, like a membrane sweep or induction. I knew he would come when he was good and ready. So, I hung out, enjoying those last few weeks of being a family of three and trying to make Eliza feel extra special and loved. One day, I was feeling extra motivated (hello, nesting), and decided to go to all my favorite stores to walk all 210lbs of myself around and buy random stuff I felt like I wanted and definitely didn't need. It was a gorg day and I felt great (other than my hugely swollen feet). I had been done working for about a week already since at this point, I was 6 days past my "due date" (made up things). I came home and felt some more intense Braxton Hicks and had my "show", but wasn't sure if I should think much of it, since it could still be days before true labor. I told Joel I wanted to inflate the birth tub just in case. My friend even texted me "Are you in labor?" at 7pm, to which I promptly told her I think she might be psychic and I possibly am. Ha! But, of course, I kept it to myself to avoid any kind of chaos or pressure on myself. Joel and I put Eliza to bed and he followed suit. I was uncomfortable but didn't want to worry Joel, so I just worked on editing photos for a few hours, pushing through the discomfort. I texted my birth team, just letting them know something "might be happening". I tried to go to sleep around 11pm, but only laid in bed for about a half an hour when I felt a liquid dribble. I got out of bed and knew it definitely wasn't pee, but it wasn't that "pop" sound they talk about. I hung out in the bathroom for a little, breathing through the contractions. At around 1:30am, I decided I needed some help, as the contractions were coming at about 45-1 minutes long every 3 or so minutes, so I woke up Joel saying, "Hey, I think I am in labor". A short, quick labor, I thought? Let's do this!
Joel helped me through the contractions as we enjoyed my serene birthing space that I had set up, with twinkle lights, a birth pool, affirmation cards, and candles. It was so lovely. Around 4am, we decided to call our midwife, doula, and photographer. Everybody got there between 5-6am and just kind of hung out for a bit. At that point, we woke up Eliza for her uncle to take her to daycare. Holy confused. She walked out to a group of strangers, a filled up tub in the living room, and mood lighting. It only took about a minute for her to realize everyone was there to play with her, of course, and to grab Lisa (doula) to help her with some puzzles before she left. Besties. After she left, things seemed to slow down. At that point, I went into the labor land they talk about, where your brain gets kind of fuzzy. I think it was around 2pm when my midwife, Mary, asked if I wanted to be checked. I was very reluctant and told her she could check me for her own knowledge, but not to tell me. When she checked me, she made a smile that told me I might want to know. "Okay, tell me," I said. "You are a six and can stretch to a seven."
I burst into tears. Literally. I got to 1/2 cm with Eliza after 18 hours of pitocin contractions at the hospital. I couldn't believe I had made it that far. I was already so proud of myself. That little number gave me so much motivation to push on. Anytime I would feel contractions start to slow, I would sit on the toilet, since that seemed to be the place where they were the most intense. I did take some time in the shower and the tub, but everytime I touched water (even though it felt amaaaaazing), everything came to a halt. This was super sad to me because I had really wanted a water birth. But, I knew that you could not have any set in stone plans and needed to be flexible as every birth was different and unique. So I let that go quickly and got back into what I could do to continue progressing.
At one point, Mary mentioned that I still had a "bulging bag", meaning my waters had not fully broken (they were just leaking earlier), and the baby's head was pressing on it. Even though I wanted as few interventions as possible, we decided to break my waters since I had already been in labor almost 24 hours at that point. I also had a cervical lip, so Mary was going to try to pull that down in the process. The first attempt was unsuccesful using the hook, but when she tried to pull the cervical lip, I felt that crazy popping sensation and there it was. HOLY CRAP THAT IS SO MUCH LIQUID. And it doesn't stop. Like at all. It just keeps filling up (thanks, baby) and you continuously fill up those cute adult diapers. Another thing I didn't experience the first time around. And I loved it. It was all so cool and interesting (no wonder I looove and am fascinated by birth). I continued to labor, moving around the house freely and trying various positions, with the help of Joel and Lisa alternating with hip squeezes and such. It was all so wonderful. There was so much love and support in the room. Our birth photographer, Millicent of Native Bloom Photography, was there capturing it all, hanging out of sight but in the most supportive way. She is such a gorgeous mama, inside and out, and we connected immediately when we met. I was so happy she could be part of the experience.
By this time, the "back-up" midwife, Neena, had made her way to the house, adding an extra element of comfort and support. She was so calm and uplifting in her demeanor. She told me that Finn's head was acynclitic, meaning slightly tilted, which was stopping him from making his way down. We tried soooooo much. We tried it all; the miles circuit, rebozo, lunges outside of my house up the front steps for all the neighbors to enjoy, and holding a downward dog position for almost an hour. Neena rubbed my back the whole time. IT WORKED! HUZZAH! I cried again. We were all working together to make this happen. I was smiling in labor. Not many people say that, but it was just so wonderful.
At this point, I had made my way back into the tub and, guess what....I was nine cm! HECK YES! GO ME. For real, that is one of the best feelings. They told me if I felt "pushy" I could try. I had really wanted to experience fetal ejection reflex but was willing to push. I didn't really feel like it was quite time yet, though. I hopped out of the tub and things really had seemed to slow down a lot. I was laughing and breathing easily, with intense contractions only coming every 5-10 minutes. This was not good. I decided to have Joel call Bethany (remember my favorite person above?) and she said she would be right over. She came to my house to adjust me. You just know that all these people actually care about you so much and want the absolute best for you. While we were waiting for Bethany, Mary checked my blood pressure again and it was high. Really high. Too high.
With the most recent contraction, Finn's heart rate had dropped significantly. It came back up quickly, but both of these things together were not good. I knew what they meant. "Do I have to go to the hospital?" I asked Mary. "We think that would be the best and safest for you." I cried. She cried. Joel cried. We all cried together. We had worked so hard to get here and done everything we could. But, I knew this was what our birth story needed to be. At that moment, Bethany showed up and Joel went to update her on what was happening. After taking some time to regroup and process that we were transferring, I went inside to a somber, but supportive feeling in the house. Everyone felt that sense of loss that I had felt, which made me even more grateful to have everyone there. Bethany still gave me an adjustment, hoping that my blood pressure would lower enough when we arrived at the hospital that I could continue to labor. In my heart, I was very sure that my night would end in a C-section. Luckily, I had been there before and at least had the time to process this a bit before arriving at the hospital. We packed up a few things to take with us. I hadn't packed a hospital bag because I thought it was bad juju and didn't want to even think I would need to do that. But we knew Joel would be back to take care of the dogs and could grab whatever else we needed then. Lisa's back up doula, Lily, came to the house at this point. We had spoken on the phone, but hadn't met in person yet. At first, I was nervous about making this transition without Lisa or Mary, but Lily was so confident and calming. I knew we would be in amazing hands. Eliza had been picked up by her grandparents (thank you thank you thank you) so she was safe and well taken care of for as long as we needed. At this point, it was 9:30pm and we were getting in our cars to drive to Forbes.
It was raining outside. I walked through the rain with ease, since my contractions had really slowed down. I sat in the required wheel chair and we headed to the front desk. Of course, nobody believed I was at 9 cm and had labored for 26+ hours as I sat there, smiling in my chair, letting them know why I was there. Everyone was confused, but thankfully Lily was able to explain everything and they took me up to triage. In triage, I asked if I could wear my own robe, which was met with discontent and eyebrow rolls. There was already an air in the room of "oh, one of those home birthers". It was really saddening. The nurse on call, on the other hand, was a sweet woman who apologized to me over and over saying, "I know you didn't want this". There was a glimmer of respect there. Beyond that, staff treated me very poorly. I was aggressively given an internal check, shocking in comparison to only having 2 prior (both done very gently and with asking for consent first). The painful and unwanted cervical check left me screaming and in tears. Not two seconds later did the doctor come in and ask to check me. I denied, referencing the on call midwife who had just done so. Apparently this was annoying, because I was met with yet another eye roll and less than supportive demeanor. At this point, I was taken into a labor and delivery room, where Finn's heart rate was again dropping with each contraction. At this point, I knew I was going to be headed into surgery. The doctor rushed in, with a heat of the moment tone, scolded me that there was no time for discussion, a c-section was happening. Because I had been unmedicated up to this point and an epidural would take took long, I was put under general anesthesia. I was so sad I would not hear his first cry, but we wanted him here and healthy. Joel was not allowed to come into surgery and they wheeled me away within seconds, leaving him behind without another word. Thank the lord Lily was there. The whole time, she advocated, and advocated, and advocated. She fought for every last right and consent. At a time when we felt overwhelmed and were trying to process, she was making sure we were protected. She sat with Joel as I was rushed down the hall while he cried for his wife, for himself, for his son, who all lost our peaceful ideal of birth.
But with all that, came this sweet boy. A little, smiley, 8 lb 6oz nugget. I honestly don't remember the first time I held him, being in such a fog. Joel hovered him over my head as I came out of anesthesia. Thankfully, Lily made sure that Joel could hold him and do immediate skin to skin while I recovered. That was the perfect first bonding moment for them both. Being Covid, visitors were limited to 1 (other than our doula), so we didn't have any visitors during our stay. That was actually really lovely and helped allow me to relax and sleep without hosting a rotating door of guests everyday. I was so prepared for recovery, with all my birth kit needs at home and plans for postpartum doula help. The awesome thing was I felt like me. It was night and day from the first time around, when the baby blues hung around for about a year, morphing into PPA and PPD. I was so blessed this time around to feel happiness in those first weeks and connect with my baby. I could breathe and enjoy the moments of having Joel home with both our sweet littles. I didn't know what that was like before.
Overall, despite not being able to birth in my home, it was still so much better the second time around. I felt in control, educated, and prepared. I knew there were risks and possibility of transfer, so I was ready to deal with whatever happened. Plus, I had the MOST KICK ASS birth team out there. Don't be afraid to take the reins for your body and your baby. It is about the health of everyone involved and birth does not have to be crazy or traumatic. If you have any birthy questions, I love to talk about it all. Send me a message and we can chat. You deserve to be supported and know that you are strong and capable! Yay babies!
Birth Images by Millicent of Native Bloom Photography
Hospital images by Golden Lotus
Fresh 48 images by me (and joel)
Midwives- New Mercies Midwifery
Doulas- Golden Lotus Doulas
Chiro- Bethany Vankirk B Well Chiropractic
LOVELY DAY EVENTS
Pittsburgh modern photography