Here's How it Happened: Part Two, Donovan's Birth (6/9/06)

[One of Donovan's first pictures, about 30 minutes after birth]

I knew before I got pregnant that I would have a home birth with this baby and any subsequent babies, but I decided about halfway into this pregnancy that a midwife-assisted home birth was still too medical and had too much potential for intervention for me—midwifery in Georgia is alegal and some of the unlicensed midwives in the area were prone to transfer at the slightest indication that things were getting challenging.

I started having dreams about giving birth alone in a safe, dark place, with no one around but Jon (and sometimes not even him). I then discovered unassisted childbirth, a concept I'd never thought of before— the idea of trusting your body to do what it needs to do, and giving birth without a medical professional's assistance.

It immediately struck me as the right choice, and Jon only needed a little swaying after he began to read the available material on unassisted childbirth. We made the choice to have our baby in our own home, under our own care. We chose not to discuss this in great detail with most of our family and friends at the outset, but we began doing extensive research into what supplies and knowledge we would need to safely give birth at home, unassisted.

During the course of my pregnancy, I continued to receive backup care from a mainstream OB who was unaware of my plans to homebirth, let alone my plans to have an unassisted homebirth. The OB seemed very noninterventionist until I hit 37 weeks of pregnancy, when I had a bad car wreck. She wanted to do an internal exam (which I’d refused prior to then) to “make sure everything was ok” after the wreck. Shaken up and worried, I agreed. The pelvic exam was very painful and I asked what she was doing. “I’m just sweeping your membranes,” at which point I forcefully yelled, “NO! You ASK first!” She quickly began to stutter an explanation, that she thought she’d remembered a discussion back in April about me wanting my membranes stripped (which never happened), but of course couldn’t find anything in the file. Horribly upset, cramping, and feeling violated, I left the office and called my husband—who quickly called the OB and made sure she understood how much she’d crossed the line. He actually made her cry. I cramped and bled heavily for two days, but spent the time lying on the sofa resting, and occasionally sipping a glass of wine to slow the contractions—finally, it worked.

The rest of the “care” I received from her practice was an attempt to justify this assault of my body by diagnosing me with a problem. My OB was out of town the week after my membranes were stripped (surprise surprise) and another doctor was filling in for her—this doctor tried to convince me that I had pre-eclampsia (despite no protein in my urine) because I had a high blood pressure reading, the visit after the horrible experience with the membrane sweep! I refused the 24 hour urine collection, and this doctor told me, “Then we can just go across the street and have this baby today,” to which I answered, “’We’ aren’t having this baby. I am, and I’m not going anywhere with you.” I consented to some bloodwork, mostly to rule out any health issues for my sake, and the results showed (of course) that my health was excellent. The main OB I was seeing tried to convince me I had low fluid—again, my instincts were absolutely correct and there was nothing wrong with me. I did not return to the OB again until after my baby was born two weeks later and I will not return to an OB again for any prenatal care.

Thursday night (June 5th), I began having regular contractions that eventually stopped when I went to bed. When I started having them again on Friday night, I assumed the same thing was happening, and that by midnight they'd taper off again. I went out to dinner at the local Mexican restaurant with my parents and Liam (age 5 1/2 at the time), as Jon was still recovering from the tummy bug he'd picked up during the week. I had regular contractions, about 15 minutes apart, during dinner. They felt more intense than they had the night before, but I didn't want to get attached to the idea of being in labor, so I just relaxed and let them happen.

At about 7:45, the contractions went from intense to actually uncomfortable, though still 15 or more minutes apart. I got Liam ready for bed and tried to go about my normal evening routine. As I was reading to Liam at a little past 8pm, however, I had to pause during the contractions, which were about 10 minutes apart, give or take. After I got him into bed, I immediately started picking up our bedroom, changing the sheets, organizing and putting things away. With each contraction, I had to pause what I was doing, but I wasn't really ready to admit I was in labor. I told Jon I expected the contractions to taper off soon. I kept saying this, even after my contractions were 5-6 minutes apart, and I could no longer talk through them—I had to make low moans to through each contraction, which helped immensely.

At this point, I checked my cervix—the one and only time I did so during labor. I knew I was at 1-2cm prior to labor due to a cervical check a few weeks prior—this meant that I was already dilated to the point it took me 48 hours to reach during Liam's birth, but I still harbored a fear of another long, drawn out labor with little progress. I worried I would labor for days again and end up in the hospital after all. Checking myself, and realizing I was at 3-4, instantly relaxed me. I knew I could trust my body to do its job, so I stopped worrying about dilating, and started focusing on my contractions, relaxing into them, which was getting progressively harder.

I'm sketchy on time from here on out, because I made a point of seldom looking at the clock. Jon called my mother, and I talked to her for a few minutes, still insisting that this might not be it, so not to rush over (I wanted only Jon and my mother at the birth, and Liam if he was up for it). I went into the bathroom and emptied my body out in pretty much every way possible. Bye-bye Mexican food, but I felt much more ready for birth. Contractions were very intense and painful, but felt powerful. Jon was great, applying pressure on my back as I needed it or just helping me relax or simply listening to make sure he could hear me call if I needed him. I spent much of the next hour in the bathroom, partially because I had to pee after every contraction, and partially because it felt good to be alone, but safe knowing Jon was right outside the door when I needed him.

When it reached a point that the contractions seemed to be coming with almost no break, I had Jon call for my mom to come over. I then sat on the toilet for a while, because it seemed to make the contractions more bearable, and then ran a warm bath. While in the tub, I joked to Jon, “I'd like some drugs now, please, maybe some morphine?” He knew I didn’t mean it, though, and just laughed a little. Lying in the water got me through about three contractions, but then became completely uncomfortable. Jon helped me get out and towel off, then lie down on the bed.

My mother arrived right before I had another contraction. Jon told her what was going on, and she asked me if I was in transition. I looked at the clock then, and vaguely registered that it was almost 11pm—my first labor was 50 hour, and my brain told me there was no way I was in transition already. I’m pretty sure I answered, “No. Yes. I don’t know,” but Jon nodded his head yes behind my back. My next few contractions were right on top of each other, no break, and I couldn't relax into them at all. As the next contraction began, I frantically jumped up from the bed and hurried to the bathroom. I felt pressure on my bladder. I sat back on the toilet and called Jon in. He sat on the floor in front of me and helped me remain calm and focused using some techniques we'd learned and worked on together. My next two contractions were actually soothing in a way—they felt very powerful, but not painful, and I could manage them with a low, deep moan. They felt like a calm before a storm, a gathering up of energy. I fell asleep in between them for a minute, it was so wonderful.

Suddenly, the next contraction hit me so hard that I literally jumped up from the toilet, though I didn't know why. I couldn't get comfortable, not even remotely. The contraction was beyond painful, it was driving me across the room. I went to the corner of the bathroom, next to the shower. I leaned on the shower, then squatted, turned in a circle in the corner like an animal making a bed, then went down on my hands and knees. As I raised back up into a squat, my water broke in an explosion. It sounded like someone had tossed a large water balloon into the bathroom. Amniotic fluid splashed onto the floor across half the bathroom, it seemed, including splashing Jon's leg. He stepped into the doorway and called my mother in immediately. When my water broke, it did so with tremendous force, and I felt the sensation of the baby moving down rapidly. I put my hands down, and part of his head was out! The force of my water breaking had moved him out.

I put my hands on his head and held it. I called out, "I'm pushing" and my mother said "Are you sure?" I thought she was insane, because his head was out. I found out later that she meant it didn't look like I was pushing, because I wasn't straining at all. My body was doing the work for me. Before I could answer her, though, the rest of his head emerged and my mother reached to catch Donovan as I guided him into her hands—again, without a conscious push on my part, and almost no delay between the first push and the emergence of his body. I wasn't even aware of Jon behind me, supporting me into a squat on the bathroom rug in the corner of the bathroom, and keeping me from falling into the shower, I just knew his presence was there and I was safe. From water breaking to Donovan's birth was probably no more than 30 seconds, and my mother caught Donovan and handed him immediately to me.

He was crying but making no sound. My mother said very calmly, "Well, he's not breathing," and I instinctively blew a soft puff of air into his face. He immediately began to cry loudly. The umbilical cord was too short to bring him up to my chest, so I sank down onto the floor in a sitting position and put him across my belly. My mother draped a blanket across him, warm from the dryer, and I said to Jon, "He's a Donovan," because he had a full head of black hair. I felt so overwhelmed by what had happened, but also immensely calm at the same time. Not the calm of shock, but the calm of utter triumph and satisfaction.

My mother set down towels to mop up the huge puddle of amniotic fluid and blood, and Jon went to get Liam, who was too asleep to process what he was seeing. I waited for the placenta to come out, but it wasn't happening right away, and we wanted to get Donovan someplace warmer than the bathroom floor right in front of the AC vent, so we checked to see that the cord was done pulsing, then Jon clamped and cut it -- Donovan was separated from me! They took him into the bedroom to warm up a bit and weigh him, and I sat back on the toilet and almost immediately delivered the placenta. I checked to see that it was all in one piece, and it was. With a little help, I dried myself off a bit and went to lie down with my new son. He latched on pretty quickly and nursed well.

I felt pretty sore, but otherwise completely energized, not tired at all. I felt powerful, empowered, redeemed. My mother told me later that the birth seemed incredibly violent and yet calm, that it was almost like an animal birth -- then she said violent wasn't really the right word. I said "primal" and she agreed that is exactly what it was. I was completely in my primal brain, seeking out a safe, comfy corner (with a red rug, luckily), settling into it, and giving birth in a swift and powerful manner.

No one but family touched Donovan for the first four days of his life. He was never suctioned. He was never poked, injected, pricked, or touched roughly. No stinging drops in his eyes, no shots to force his blood to clot. His body touched no cold metal or hard surfaces. He was touched with love, soft things, his bottom wrapped in a soft cloth diaper, his body placed on his mother's warm belly. He was spared all the cold interventions Liam had to suffer. He was wrapped warmly and nestled between his parents, and the whole family was asleep by just past 1am. He is the most mellow and alert baby I have ever met.

Liam's birth made me feel like my body was broken, like it couldn't do it. I felt overrun by the medical profession, like my choices had been taken away from me. I felt violated. With Donovan's birth, however, I know that my body is powerful and capable. I needed no doctors, no midwives, no interventions. My son was born into a loving, safe environment. It was perfect. I did go in to see the (cervical assaulter) OB the Monday after he was born, who pressured me to allow her to give me three intramuscular stitches to stabilize my 2nd degree tear, but in the future I will just stay in bed with my legs together and let it heal without worrying about it!

We are currently trying to conceive our third child and our plan is an unassisted pregnancy and unassisted birth.