Updated: May 15
During this quarantine when many hospitals have created stricter guidelines around partners or other family members being in the delivery room, there has been an increased buzz around non-hospital deliveries. Given this, I wanted to share my story about my experience delivering with a midwife, at a birth center.
I want to emphasize that all births are beautiful! The entire process of growing a human, and seeing that precious baby enter the world is simply miraculous in any form. The way you choose to bring your baby into the world is the perfect way for you and your baby! This was the ideal way for me and my family. How I first learned of a Midwifery Growing up I never knew that there was any other child birth option besides a hospital birth, and I guess I just presumed if I had children one day, I would go to a hospital. I had heard of the terms midwife and doula, but assumed that was some hippy dippy thing for people in rural areas. When I turned thirty it seemed like all my friends were suddenly having babies! I’m not sure if it’s only the dramatic stories that compel people to share more freely, but honestly, most of what was relayed to me about birth and recovery was terrifying. In a way, I was grateful to be living the single life with pregnancy and child rearing far off in the future!
However, there was one story that stood out and really intrigued me. It was from a close friend who had her baby at a birth center, in a birthing tub, delivered by a midwife and aided by a doula. The way she described her experience was so peaceful. She had tears in her eyes explaining the process, how empowered she felt, and the beauty of the entire experience. I thought to myself, “Wow, if I ever have kids, I want this.”
My Pregnancy Journey
When I became pregnant, I shared my desire to go the midwifery route with my husband and he was very supportive. One thing that I did not realize was that midwives are licensed to provide the full spectrum of prenatal care for low risk women. In fact, I did not see a doctor my entire pregnancy. I was thirty five at the time of conception, so technically was considered “advanced maternal age,” which can sometimes automatically put a mother into a higher risk category. However, I was healthy, with no negative health history, so was deemed low risk and viable for a non-hospital delivery.
Each time I went to the birthing center for a prenatal visit, I weighed myself, submitted a urine sample, had my blood pressure checked, heard the baby’s heartbeat, and had my belly felt for fetal positioning. I thought it was so cool how just via bare hands the midwives could tell where my little girl lie and her approximate size (which ended up being spot on). I also had an occasional blood test. The best part was being able to sit with the midwife for as long as I wanted to ask any questions about this stage of my pregnancy and what to expect in the coming weeks.
The birth center employed two midwives and a midwife-in-training who rotated in for my prenatal appointments. The goal was to have a comfort level with all of them, and they with me, as the primary midwife for my delivery would be based on who was on call at the time of my labor.
One aspect I really appreciated about those visits is that there was no invasive checking, and I stayed fully clothed at each appointment, except of course to provide access to my abdomen so the attending midwife could feel the positioning of the baby.
As my pregnancy progressed, and I remained in the low risk category, I was really looking forward to “feeling” how labor and delivery felt in the most authentic way possible. So, the fact that pain medication was not an option at my birthing center was okay by me (although some midwives do offer nitrous oxide, aka laughing gas).
I will admit, like many first time moms, discouraging thoughts would enter my headspace, and comments from well-intentioned friends, who had complicated births, sometimes made me question if a non-hospital birth was the right decision. But, I kept reminding myself that birth was a natural process that women have undergone since the dawn of time, my body was designed to do this, and if for any reason the midwives felt there was a risk, I would be referred out.
I forced myself to dismiss negative thoughts and only allowed myself to marinate on messages of peace and inner strength. My midwife also shared some incredible affirmations. I also took solace in the fact that in Houston, we have hospitals on nearly every corner, so if something were to go wrong, I would have quick access to more extensive medical treatment.
Meanwhile, I also knew that I wanted to have a doula by my side. A doula is like a cheerleader / emotional coach during labor. She is there to assuage anxiety and ease pain through breathing and body positioning. Overall, she helps calm and empower the mother, acting as her advocate throughout the entire labor and delivery process. She will even help direct your partner on how best to help you during the process.
My doula offered three in-person sessions throughout my pregnancy where she got to know both my husband and me. During those meetings, she educated us on the stages of labor and what to expect on the big day.
She also offered a postpartum weekly meet up with other new moms whose babies were all born around the same time. In hindsight, this weekly meet up group I attend for three months postpartum was priceless. My one piece of advice to any new mom is to join some sort of mommy support network. Simply having a reason to get out of the house on a weekly basis, being in the presence of other new moms, and talking about all sorts of baby and postpartum topics was immensely helpful for my emotional well-being.
A Saint Patrick’s Day Water Break
On Saint Patrick’s Day 2018, one week before my daughter’s due date, my husband and I were at our neighbor’s house enjoying a backyard barbecue, when I excused myself to use the restroom. At that point, I realized no doubt my water had broken.
I was surprised to have this happen, as my doula had said that water breaks naturally in about only ten percent of labors. However, I was glad to have this definitive sign that my baby girl was on her way! We rushed right home (which fortunately was literally next door).
Playing the Waiting Game
I texted the midwives and doula around 7:30 pm letting them know my water had broken. As I understood it, I could expect contractions to start in twelve to twenty-four hours’ time, and I was repeatedly told to rest as I would need as much stamina as possible. I felt absolutely fine except the slow leak of amniotic fluid.
I told my husband to go to the grocery store so we could have the refrigerator stocked. I really had nothing else to do except tie up last minute work details (at the time I was working full time in corporate America). I set my out-of-office email responder for my maternity leave, and spent the rest of the time cleaning the house (I am one of those people who finds cleaning therapeutic).
This was about to be the most momentous experience of my entire thirty-six years on planet earth, so there was no way I could sleep! However, in true fashion, my husband started snoozing immediately.
The Contractions Started
There I was, lying in bed trying to fall asleep, but around 3 am I started feeling the slightest contractions. It’s hard to describe, but it felt like a slight twinge in my belly. They didn’t really hurt at that point and were spaced about ten minutes apart. I took a shower knowing this might be the last time to enjoy a long, hot, relaxing shower for a while ( I was right)!
The midwives told me that when my contractions lasted for one minute, every four minutes, for one hour, that was the time to come to the birth center. My contractions were speeding up and around 5:30 am, the midwife on call, a delightful young British woman, called to check in on me. Based on my contraction rate, she suggested I start getting my things together to arrive at the birth center around 7 am.
I Had the Entire Birth Center to Myself I clearly remember the drive from our home to the birthing center texting friends and family that baby girl was on her way! It seemed so surreal that the empty car seat in the back seat would be holding an infant on our drive home. The contractions were getting uncomfortable and the discomfort was amplifying. I was very nauseous and took a bowl with me just in case I vomited on the twenty minute drive (fortunately I did not).
The birth center where I delivered had three birthing rooms from which to choose. They all resemble master bedrooms with a bed, large bathtub, and other birthing accessories. I had wanted one particular room, but knew that it would be on a first come first serve basis based on who else might be delivering at the time.
Fortunately, in the early morning hours of Sunday, March 18th, 2018, no one else was at the birth center and I scored the room of my choice. My intention was to deliver my daughter in the bathtub, which sounded so relaxing and also very fitting for a little Pisces baby (Pisces is a water sign).
Breathing through the Pain
My husband and I, along with my sweet, little senior dog (who was literally like my first born child), arrived at the birthing center roughly twelve hours after my water broke. By now, contractions were uncomfortable and painful. They felt like a dull ache that lasted for about thirty seconds and then went away. I had to keep telling myself that this was temporary, this pain would not last forever, and my body was designed to do this.
The women in attendance included a primary midwife, a midwife in training, and an assistant. Because my doula had not yet arrived, the midwife in training, certified in the Bradley method of natural childbirth, helped me immensely by coaching me how to breathe through my pain.
I was floored at how just by changing the way I was breathing, my pain was so much more manageable! It was still very painful, and I did vomit one time, but breathing really did help me push through the pain in a way I would not have thought possible. Looking back, one thing I would have done differently was to have taken a breathing class during my pregnancy so I could have practiced those techniques versus learn them on the fly.
Time to Push
After three hours of walking the hallways, bracing myself, deep breathing with eyes closed against the wall, honestly wondering what the heck I was thinking going for a non-medicated birth . . . it was time to start pushing. Hallelujah!
The feeling of the baby’s head descending feels to most women like the sensation of needing to have a bowel movement. I had had this sensation for a while, and wanted to push, but knew I could not until I was sufficiently dilated. Throughout my entire pregnancy, this was the only internal check I had, and honestly, that was the most painful part of everything. But, it was over quickly and I could start getting some relief from the pressure by receiving the green light to push. Around 10 am, three hours after arrival, I got into the bathtub and it felt divine. This bathtub was essentially a large Jacuzzi type residential bathtub, but there are also portable, inflatable, high walled birthing bathtubs for home births. The water temperature was carefully monitored so that it was safe for baby while comfortable for me. I can’t even describe how soothing it felt to just have some relief from the pain of the contractions, which were happening at this point back to back.
Because I was so relaxed, my contractions started slowing. My support team, which now included my doula, gave me some black cohosh tea to stimulate contractions, which helped.
Lying in the bathtub, it would have been nice to take a break, but I was ready to get this little girl out. I was instructed to tell my team each time I felt a contraction coming and in unison they responded, “push, push, push!”
As much of a relief it was to be in that warm bathwater, I found it surprisingly challenging to push against the slick porcelain walls of the bathtub. I knew if I wanted to get this baby out, I needed more leverage and I inherently felt the need to be in an upright position.
Enter the Birthing Stool
I don’t even know who recommended it, but someone brought out a wooden looking contraption that looked like a medieval toddler potty. This random contraption, appropriately called a birthing stool, is designed so that in the low seated position, a woman’s pelvis expands and gravity promotes the downward movement of baby.
It was worth a shot.
The moment I sat down, I knew this was the ticket. My husband sat behind me to brace my back, and the team of midwives and doula knelt on the floor in front of me. I had about three series of pushes, and at that point the primary midwife shouted, “I can see your baby’s head . . .she has brown curly hair!”
Although I wore no monitors, during the entire labor process, the primary midwife was checking the baby’s heartbeat frequently. Right as the baby's head was crowning, her heartbeat was slightly dropping, so I was fitted me with an oxygen mask to give me more stamina, and to give the baby an oxygen boost.
Just that little surge of oxygen gave me the energy I needed, and in one final push, baby girl was out!
It was so surreal to have this real, live, tiny human placed on my chest. I cognitively knew I had a little person growing inside me, but it didn’t seem real until just then.
After the umbilical cord stopped pulsing, my husband cut it, and my daughter and I had skin to skin contact while my doula showed me some initial breastfeeding basics.
I don’t remember what order it came in, but within twenty or thirty minutes of giving birth, the midwife told me to give a slight push to expel the placenta. That part was so easy – I essentially coughed and it came out. I actually had my doula take the placenta home to make placenta smoothies – more on that later.
My daughter was given the basic series of newborn tests and had her blood drawn. My doula came over to brush my hair so I could look somewhat presentable for our first family photo (although i was no Princess Kate)!
I felt amazing. I felt exhilarated. I felt like what I imagine marathon runners feel as they cross the finish line. I was so grateful to have my daughter here. All seven pounds, seven ounces of her – healthy and perfect.
Time to go Home
At 2 pm, three hours after delivery, we were given the green light to go home. I sat in the back seat with my daughter just so I could make sure she was okay on the ride home. Like many newborns, her face was bruised from being squeezed through the birth canal, but after a day that cleared right up. There we were on a normal Sunday afternoon, pulling up to the curb, this time with a baby in tow!
The Day After
The midwife told me that my baby would probably have one very long stretch of sleep when she came home. I don’t recall exactly, but she slept for probably six hours right away.
The next morning, I had a home visit from both my midwife and my doula. The midwife took my vitals, performed a series of tests on my daughter, and we talked about my birth experience. That same day, my doula brought over three placenta smoothies in cute little glass jars. She had taken my placenta from the birth center and blended it with fruit and protein powder. I had also wanted to make capsules, but my placenta was on the smaller side so there was not enough material. I was told to drink one that morning, another that evening, and the final smoothie the following day. They tasted like regular fruit smoothies - my husband even took a slurp!
Although there are no proven health benefits, I chose to consume my placenta because of the high levels of iron and hormones, which are thought to help stave off postpartum depression. I figured if most mammals consume their placentas, biology can’t be wrong.
I feel very grateful to have had a smooth birthing experience and will always look back upon it and smile. My one regret is that I wished I would have had my husband or doula take video. Although the pain was extreme at some points, and I questioned my decision in the moment about foregoing pain medication, the ability to see my baby so alert right after birth, to walk out of the birth center and go back to the comforts of home so quickly was worth the trade off. If you got this far, I’m honored you read my story.
If you are considering using a midwife or a doula, I am happy to share more about my experience. I also encourage you to watch my interview below with Lisa Rutledge, LM, CPM, midwife with Woodlands Midwife.