I have had two prior cesareans, one in 2007 and one in 2009, both caused by failed inductions and the dreaded cascade of interventions. Both of these cesareans could have been prevented. In 2011 I had a successful vaginal birth after two prior cesareans (VBA2C) naturally without pain medications in a hospital five hours from home. Unfortunately, in my community, no obstetrician was willing to support my desire for a vaginal birth due to my history of cesarean sections. In order to obtain the care of an obstetrician who supported my decision to attempt a vaginal birth despite my prior cesareans, I had to travel five hours from home and stay in a hotel for three weeks prior to giving birth. That birth was an incredibly healing and empowering experience for me.
With my fourth pregnancy, I had planned to do the same, traveling to the obstetrician who assisted in the delivery of my third child. I had toyed with the idea of an unassisted birth at the hotel I would stay at (that way I would be near the physician I chose, should complications arise), but I wasn’t sure what I wanted and I went back and forth on the decision a great deal. I would have loved a midwife to attend my birth, however, in Alaska midwives cannot legally attend the birth of a woman who has had prior cesareans. I could have hired an unlicensed midwife, but I didn’t feel like that was the right decision for me.
Despite my indecision, I continued making my monthly appointments with my obstetrician so far from home. At my last appointment, he apologized to me and let me know he would be out of the country near my due date and would arrive back in Alaska on the morning of my due date. Initially, I was upset, worried about how this would change my plans and how this would affect my birth. He and his wife reassured me that the new doctor with their practice was equally as amazing, however, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with it. I worried about it a great deal, but then I realized…
This was my sign.
I had already been considering an unassisted birth. This was my sign to do it. I was nervous at first, and I struggled to calm down the ten million “what-if” questions and fears I had. Fortunately, I made the decision early enough in my pregnancy that I still had a great deal of time to research and educate myself and I did just that. I read everything I could. I gathered a small list of supplies and I went into it preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best.
For the most part, my pregnancy was uneventful. I suffered from morning sickness until 22 weeks, and came down with a ridiculous amount of sinus infections, colds, flus and even pertussis. I had two out of the three migraines I have ever experienced during this pregnancy, and some pre-term contractions that left me pretty nervous, but overall, things were relatively mellow. I started getting pretty regular braxton hicks contractions around 36 weeks, some of which made me think it might be time, only to disappear and fizzle out as soon as I attempted to time them. The back pain was the worst part of it all. I practically lived at the chiropractor’s office. I started going once a week at 30 weeks, then twice a week at 35 weeks and by 37 weeks, I was going three times a week.
On December 8, one of my doulas texted me to check in. I told her I was having some contractions, but I was going to time them before I called her and my other doula to come. They both lived almost two hours away and I did not want to call them up for a false alarm! I continued timing them while I was cleaning house and they seemed to be consistent. I decided to lay down and time them to see if my physical activity was causing the contractions. As soon as I laid down they started spacing out. They were still stronger, but the timing made me think it wasn’t the real deal. I texted both of my doulas and let them know that the contractions were subsiding and I would keep them posted.
I watched some television with my husband and by 11pm, I noticed my contractions were picking back up, even when I was leaning back and relaxing. I timed them for a while and they seemed to be picking up again. They started hurting more and were getting pretty uncomfortable. Moving was beginning to hurt and changing positions was painful. By 3am, I was 100% sure I was in labor, but I decided to do my best to sleep while I could. I knew it was only going to get worse and as a doula, I have seen the importance of resting in early labor firsthand, as well as the impact that rest or lack of can have on a woman’s birth. I slept the best I could until 7am, waking up with each contraction.
I got out of bed at 7am, got in the bath tub and texted my sister, my friend and my doulas, letting them know it was time. It wasn’t unbearable yet, but it was hurting and requiring my focus. I knew that by the time my doulas arrived, I would likely need them. My sister texted me back letting me know she was on her way to school but her dad would drop her off. She showed up just in time to get my oldest ready for school (I had completely forgotten she needed to get ready) and to the bus stop while I laid in the tub.
When I got out of the tub, I started cleaning my house, pausing for contractions. Prior to giving birth, I had been very worried about my birth pictures looking awful because of the house being a mess. I had a housekeeper for a while, but she was also pregnant and her doctor told her she needed to stop working for a while due to some problems. Because of this, I was extremely worried about the house and how it would look in the photos. I kept telling everyone that I was almost willing to go to the hospital if it meant the pictures would have a clean background! Fortunately, my sister, Tori, my friend, Chelsea and I were able to get the house in decent shape and my husband took the other two kids to my grandma’s house.
I laid down on our area rug for a while and my sister painted my nails. I didn’t ask her to. She just wanted to and I decided to let her. I’d lay there, relaxing, half-sleeping and she’d work on my nails. I’d feel a contraction coming on and she’d drop my hand and I’d get on all fours, being very careful not to mess up my wet nails, and wait until the contraction was over. Then she would resume painting them. Unfortunately, I managed to mess up the polish on my right index finger several times. Tori had to repaint it more times than I remember. The last time I messed it up, she looked like she wanted to smack me!
I was still laying on the area rug when my doulas, Tammie and Megan, showed up. My friend Danielle (also a doula) was supposed to be there for the birth as well, but she texted me when I had been in the tub that morning telling me she had the flu. My exact word were “Shit. Because I’m definitely in labor.” It ended up being better that she wasn’t there. Tammie and Megan were amazing. When Tammie and Megan first arrived, I wasn’t hurting too terribly. I’d have to interrupt whatever we were talking about and focus on the contraction, but I’d bounce right back. Megan did a lot of counter-massage on my sacrum, which felt amazing. The harder she did it, the better it felt during a contraction. She was so worried she was bruising me (I think she did) but it helped so much that I didn’t care.
At one point, I sent Dan to get a “fluffy towel” and steamed rice. Just like with my third baby, I craved nothing but rice items. Steamed rice. Rice cakes. Rice chex. It didn’t matter. I wanted rice. Plain rice. Dan attempted to argue with me about the towel, telling me that we had plenty of towels and I told him its for the baby once she is born and that it needs to be fluffy. I think he was a bit baffled because I just kept insisting it must be fluffy!
Then came the awesome part. Getting the tub blown up. The air pump ended up breaking part way through filling it so one of my doulas ended up blowing it up (and she was super early in her own pregnancy!) Then even worse, I realized we didn’t have a clean hose to fill it up. Just a hose that had come with the house when we bought it and had been sitting outside for the last five years. So my doulas, my friend Chelsea and my sister were all running from the kitchen sink and the bathtub with pots full of hot water. I felt bad they had to fill my massive deluxe size tub with nothing but pots!
I didn’t want to get into the tub until my water broke. My last labor, it was 13 hours from my water breaking until the actual birth. I knew it was going to get more intense once my water broke, so I wanted to hold off on getting in the pool until then. So, until then, we all hung out, talking and laughing, pausing for contractions where I’d lean over the birth ball and Megan would put pressure on my hips and rub my back.
Megan and Tammie would both remind me to get up and move around. I got a little immature at that point, laying on the ball, I’d exclaim “It’s a trap!!!!” any time they suggested I get up and move around. I knew they were right. They knew that I knew they were right. And we just had a humorous battle of the wills at times. It was fun going, relaxing and easy. I felt like we were just hanging out and in between contractions, I’d sometimes forget I was even in labor!
I made faces all throughout labor. Just being a dork for the camera. Dan called it “The Many Faces of Sammi.”
And yes, I did straighten my hair during labor and I did my makeup! I never wear makeup but I wanted to in labor!
This was by far my easiest, most relaxing, enjoyable birth experience. Dan was working on the computer during the majority of my labor, which I told him to. He had never been to a birth before (not even our three other kids) and I wanted him there but I didn’t want him just sitting around feeling awkward and unsure what to do in labor. I don’t think he wanted to either. A few points, he tried to ask me work-related questions while in labor and I responded “I’m kind of busy here! DO WHAT YOU WANT!”
My 18-year-old sister Sophie showed up while I was in labor, but not intentionally. She was swinging by to drop off some turkey that my grandpa smoked up for me and apparently no one told her I was in labor. She walked in and stopped dead in her tracks, looking at my two doulas, the birth ball and my pool and said “I’m thinking I probably should’t leave…” It was funny because I told her she could be there prior to going into labor and she insisted, quite strongly, that she wanted nothing to do with being at the birth, at all, in no way, no shape, no firm. But when it came down to it and she showed up, she didn’t want to leave.
Things were progressing, but slowly. I checked myself once every six hours. I didn’t want to psych myself out worrying about dilation too much, so I really forced myself to restrict it. My 15-year-old sister had a band recital at 7, so when it got closer, she asked if it was safe for her to go. I didn’t expect to have the baby before she got back so I told her it should be fine and she left. After all, my last birth was thirteen hours from water breaking to birth. I assumed I would have more time to go.
I got to the point where I felt like I had to pee a lot and the final time I went to the bathroom, I sat down and my water burst all over the floor and it was so loud it echoed off the walls. I got wide-eyed, surprised that it was so loud and then Megan calls through the door, “Did you puke or did your water break?” I told her my water broke and that it was clear (my last baby had meconium) and then I hear people laughing outside the door. After I open it, Megan and Tammie helped clean up the water (I tried but didn’t like bending like that) and I got in the pool. Of course, I get in the pool and Dan walks by, talked to me a bit and smiled and I instantly said “Don’t you dare make any whale jokes!” For those who don’t know, we’ve had a running inside joke relating to me being a whale since 2009. We have had some pretty good ones back and forth, but I was hugely pregnant, in labor, in a giant pool in our kitchen. I was just WAITING for the whale joke. My husband burst out laughing and told me he wasn’t going to make one. Yeah, right!
Side note… This is my absolute favorite picture from Vada’s birth, and surprisingly, it was only about an hour before she was born! I love how relaxed and happy and calm I was.
I only spent about two hours in the tub before Vada was finally born. I will admit, I panicked a bit when my water broke. All I could think was that my last baby it was 13 hours from my water breaking to birth. I was tired. I didn’t want to be in labor another thirteen hours. I didn’t think I could do it. Tammie reminded me that this isn’t Ava (my last baby) and this birth is different, this baby is different, this pregnancy is different. I’m in the comfort of my home, with people I care about around me, no hospital, no nurses, nothing to disturb my peace. That pep talk was really helpful and helped me to calm down and enjoy the process.
Then I got a bit worried again. The water had been clear initially but when I got in the tub, it was light green. The baby had passed meconium. Initially, I wasn’t too worried, but then I got a bit concerned. I worried I wasn’t being as attentive as I should be. I doubted my own gut feeling (that I didn’t need to go in) on the sole basis of “what if I’m wrong?” We talked about it a bit and we even got in touch with a friend of one of my doulas who is a midwife who was able to confirm the information I already knew and put my mind at ease. I decided to stay home.
Labor got much more intense, much more quickly. I got much louder than I did with my last baby, partly I think because I was at home where I was more comfortable and more relaxed. I spent a lot of time focusing on deep, long noises and it really seemed to help. I gave birth in December, and the really hot water, with my kitchen door open to let in the freezing Alaska air felt incredible. It was like sitting in a hot tub outside in the dead of winter. It was amazing. It makes me want to only have winter babies from now on.
I had the feeling I was fully dilated but the contractions weren’t changing. They felt different, but they didn’t feel like they were transitioning. I asked everyone “Do you think if I push just a little it might help? I can’t feel her head yet.” I decided to try and gave a super-weak, super-pathetic push and instantly yelped “That was a bad idea!” It all of a sudden double in intensity and hurt like none other. It was at this point that the only comfortable position I could lay in, was over the side of the tub.
This was when it got crazy. Dan came over, without me calling him to. I asked him later how he knew it was time and his response was “You started acting even crazier. Crazy=baby is almost here.” Thanks, Dan, thanks.
Funny thing is, my sister Sophie (in the back smiling in the photo above) and my doula Megan (you can see her legs on the right above) both got hands full of vagina water. I felt so bad. Every time I’m in labor, I get that strange falling sensation, like you’re rolling out of bed, when I have a contraction, unless I’m holding someone’s hands. If I hold onto someone’s hand, I feel fine. I went to check where baby’s head was and instantly contracted and grabbed my sister’s hand. Her eyes just popped wide and she said “I… have vagina all over my hand…” I instantly start apologizing and she tells me “It’s just skin…” Then a few minutes later on the other side of the pool, I do the same thing to Megan. Her response was more laughter filled and less awkward than my sister’s though, as I apologized all upset that I did that to her. (I’m pretty sure the picture above was taken right after I grabbed her hand with vagina water).
You know you’re loved when you can grab someone’s hand covered in vagina water and they’re not mad at you for it.
So then I gave up. I decided I couldn’t do it. It was too hard. It hurt to much. I am pretty sure I told Dan and everyone else that I was dying, at least a few dozen times at this stage. Then I started crying. Full on, ugly-face, tears dropping crying my head off. I told Dan I needed drugs and Dan did something incredible. This man, who had never been to a birth and passes out just talking about needles, asked me “How soon after you asked for drugs was Ava (our previous baby) born?” I answered “Five minutes.” He asked, “Do you still want drugs?” Of course, at this point, I said yes. We could go to the hospital, get me a shot of morphine, sign out against medical advice and come back home. And he countered with “You know you’re going to have the baby before you get to the hospital, right?” I nodded and pouted. “Do you really want to give birth in your new Cadillac?” I shook my head, still pouting. I probably looked ridiculous and child-like at this point.
Sure enough, a few moments later, I felt a strong surge and her head crowned, just as my doulas and my sister and friend started to excitedly exclaim that they could see her head. I pulled every ounce of strength in my body I had to push her out as quickly as I could. I wanted her out. I wanted to see her. I wanted to meet her.
I had been laying over the side of the tub when she was born, but I wanted to deliver her myself. Tammie helped to hold her in place under the water so I could flip over and lift her up myself. That was the most amazing experience of my life. Seeing my brand new baby under the water and being the one to lift her up and bring her into the world. I lifter her slowly, wiping downward on her face (because of the meconium) and slowly pulling her up out of the water.
At first, she didn’t cry. I panicked. I instantly doubted everything I had done and worried I had done something incredibly stupid having her at home, unassisted. All in a matter of moments. I jostled her, patted her, blew in her face and I heard a weird noise come from her.
She was snoring.
No joke. That little turkey was asleep. Her birth was so peaceful and tranquil that she fell asleep during her birth. She slowly stirred and gave out a tiny cry when the cameras started going off and a wave of relief (and slight annoyance!) washed over me. I couldn’t believe she had slept through her own birth! After the adrenaline from the panic subsided I started thinking about how cool it was that Vada had such a peaceful, tranquil birth that she slept right through it.
I immediately put her to the breast and held her and loved on her while we waited for the placenta. The placenta didn’t take long with my last baby (but they used fundal massage on me), so I was surprised when it took so long with Vada. I sat in the pool for about 45 minutes waiting, attempting to push it out, with no results. I put Vada in a towel in Dan’s arms, still attached to me, deciding to get out and see if laying down to push would help, only for the placenta to fall out entirely on its own the second I stood up. We scooped up the placenta and I got out of the pool and sat down in one of the computer chairs, the placenta in a pot next to us. I held Vada while we burned the umbilical cord.
The cord burning took a little longer than I thought it would, but it was pretty cool. It didn’t take too terribly long. I knew the blood gasses would make it pop but I didn’t expect it to be as long as it was! We had to relight the candles and the cord finished burning and sepearated. We then used a 4×4″ folded piece of gauze, wrapped the cord in it and placed it in the top of her diaper.
She nursed the entire time we were burning her cord! Her birth was so incredible, amazing and personal. I won’t lie. I was afraid when I first started considering an unassisted birth. I had a lot of fears. A lot of worries. A lot of “what ifs.” But the closer I got to my due date, the less worried I got. And now, having done it, I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way.