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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Guest Post: Reflections on a Homebirth

My good friend, Sarah, had her first homebirth in November. She was certain she'd go overdue and her baby caught everyone by surprise when she decided to come early, before any of Sarah's support had arrived, on Thanksgiving Day (Sarah even had a turkey in the oven and everything!) After giving birth to her 2nd daughter, Lucy, they were transferred unexpectedly to the hospital. Sarah's full birth story can be found HERE.

When looking back on her birth experience, Sarah offered valuable insight and wisdom that I wanted to share with all of you. Though she refers specifically to homebirth, all of her suggestions apply to every woman.

Simply put: 1) You need to plan for back-up support 2) When it comes to a care provider, don't "settle" and 3) Be prepared for the unexpected because, even when moms are empowered and calling the shots, birth is still unpredictable.

Every now and then (and it's usually when I'm in the shower and have time to think), I start thinking about my birth and what I could have/should have done differently. I'm about 80% satisfied with my birth experience and the things that I'm unsatisfied with are things that don't matter much in the long run (like not getting birth photos or having my placenta encapsulated). Still, there are things that I would like to do differently next time and I'm already starting to think about those things.

For Baby #3, I need to have not only a plan, but a back up plan.

I was so certain that Lucy would come after her due date that I didn't make any kind of back up plan in case she came early - before my support system arrived. I mentioned to my doula, Cassie, that I felt like I didn't handle my labor very well and she said that she thought it was because I was mentally unprepared. I think she's right. When I finally admitted to myself that I was in labor (which I'm going to guess was at about 8-9cm dilated and maybe 2 hours before Lucy was born), I basically saw my entire birth plan fall apart right in front of me and because of that, I think I was subconsciously trying to fight or escape labor. My mom wasn't there, meaning that my husband, Jon, had to take care of our daughter, Arianna. He needed to tend to her needs as well as mine. There were times when Arianna whined about things during my contractions and I got irritated and snapped at her. Then, immediately after I snapped, I would feel horrible and start crying about what a bad mother I was. Cassie wasn't there, which meant that I didn't have my doula, my photographer, or my placenta encapsulator. Actually, I was relying on Cassie for a lot of different things and only now do I realize how unfair that was - not only to myself, but to her. That's a lot of pressure to put on someone, especially when they have to travel to attend your birth (can I tell you how hard it is to plan travel around something as unpredictable as birth?). I should have had a backup doula, a backup photographer, and a backup placenta encapsulator lined up, just in case. Of course, I still would have rather had Cassie there simply because she's a friend and someone that I trust, but I think if I had backups, I would have accepted that I was in labor much sooner and possibly handled it better.

For Baby #3, I will spare NO cost.

I WILL interview several different midwives until I find a perfect fit and I won't choose a midwife solely based on whether or not my insurance will cover her. Don't get me wrong, I still think that my midwives are good midwives. I think that for some women, they are a really good fit and I've read testimonials from women who have had amazing birth experiences with them. I just don't know that they were the perfect fit for me. First, the practice is made up of six different midwives meaning that I saw a different midwife at just about every appointment. I also didn't get to choose who attended my birth, I just got whoever was on call that day. I definitely preferred seeing a midwife (or, midwives) over seeing an OB for my prenatal care. There was never a long wait to see them and I could easily decline tests and procedures that I felt unnecessary. Also, in some aspects, the care was more personalized - but the experience still wasn't perfect. I would like to find a midwife that works on her own, or maybe with one other midwife or assistant. Then I can really get to know the person who will attend my birth.

The midwife who attended my birth yelled at me while I was pushing. Lucy was starting to crown and I started to freak out a little bit, getting loud and saying that I couldn't do this anymore. She yelled, "SARAH! Now, STOP IT! Push! Now breathe! NOW PUSH! BREATHE!" At the time, it didn't bother me because I was focused on getting the baby out. However, looking back on it, it bothers me a lot and was definitely not part of the gentle birth that I had planned for (although, all of the screaming that I was doing was also not part of my "vision"). It wasn't just the volume of her voice either, it was the tone in which she said it. I felt like a child being scolded. She also didn't remember that she had attended my birth when I saw her at my postpartum appointment. She was looking through my records and said, "Okay, so who attended the birth? Oh, I did! Haha!" Not only am I uncertain about how you could forget that you attended someone's birth, mine was also on Thanksgiving! I would have thought she would have remembered it, just based on that!

For baby #3, I need to prepare and have a plan in case a transfer becomes necessary.

I really have no excuse for why I didn't prepare myself for a transfer other than the fact that, like most people, I never thought it would happen to me. When I found out that we were transferring, everything suddenly felt surreal. Since the ambulance that picked us up came from on base, they showed up less than five minutes after the midwife placed the call and we were thrown into chaos. Jon was frantically trying to pack a hospital bag while also trying to keep Arianna out of the way. The midwife and the birth assistant were calling out things that Jon needed to grab so he wouldn't forget ("Carseat! Clothes for the baby! Cell phone charger!"). I was trying to find clothes to put on since all I had on was the thin dress that I had given birth in. Even though it's something that I pray doesn't happen with the third baby, I need to prepare for it just in case it does. It wouldn't hurt to have a hospital bag packed and have everything in one place in case we need to grab stuff and go. It won't make me any happier about a transfer, but at least then the transition might be a little bit calmer.

I also need to prepare for what I might encounter at the hospital. I was all geared up to advocate and fight for Lucy, but I never thought about having to fight for myself. I was prepared to refuse formula, fight the hospital on vaccines, and demand that my daughter be allowed to room in. Interestingly enough, I didn't have to fight for any of those things. The NICU nurses and neonatologist were WONDERFUL. Jon made it clear that nothing was to be done to Lucy without it being cleared with me first (unless of course it needed to be done to save her life, but she wasn't in that much danger) and they respected our wishes 100%. It was the OB who attended me that I was not prepared for and I'm angry with myself for not telling her where to stick it. I was just so overwhelmed by that time and I was all alone. I was longing to be with my baby and was pretty much willing to do whatever I was told to do in order to make that happen.

So that's really all I've got so far, though I'm sure I'll add to it as I learn more. I'm going to do everything in my power to make my next birth an empowering and healing experience.

We often read about women who have reflected on their hospital births and wished that they had done things differently - but we forget that there is still something to be learned from all birth experiences.

Looking back on your own birth/s, is there anything you learned "the hard way" that you'd like to share?

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