Why Birth at Home?

I haven’t always been a hippy. In fact, I’d hardly consider myself one now if not for the recent home birth endeavor. For most of my life I thought that I would have a c-section merely because that’s the way I was born. I heard bits and pieces about “being stuck” during an excruciatingly long labor and I assumed that since my Mom and I have a similar small frame that a cesarean would be the only way to extract a baby. It seemed much simpler to envision a small cut that produced a baby than to contemplate hours of pushing and pain. Plus, I was a wuss when pain was involved with anything.

I walked into my first prenatal visit with Hannah practically ready to schedule my c-section. However, the nurse put that plan on hold by letting me know that all women and all pregnancies are different. I left with my fears slightly eased since I knew that the c-section recovery was not something to look forward to. That was the kickoff of my quest for knowledge about how to give birth and become a super Mom. I started to read What to Expect When You’re Expecting, but quickly swapped over to books about baby care because I couldn’t stomach the birth stories with my morning sickness. Over the Holidays a series of events unfolded that got me thinking.

First, I sat next to a Father of 3 on a flight who tolerated my frequent use of the sick bag and eased my nausea by sharing his wife’s birth stories. I listened in shock about the hospital birth, then unmedicated birth, and finally their birth at home. The man reminded me a little too much of my husband, especially when he started to equate the home birth to a challenge like climbing Everest. I began to realize that the baby I carried was just as much my husband’s child and I could hardly imagine that if given the opportunity to have a baby he would take the challenge lying down.

Coincidentally, I spent the vacation lying down reading. After racing through my baby books, I raided my Mother-In-Law’s bookshelf and read a book about a young pioneer woman who gave birth on her own in the kitchen. It blew my mind and when I brought it up I was surprised to find out that Moms I knew (including my husband’s) had also had natural deliveries.

When I reached the second trimester, my renewed energy allowed me to exercise, eat well, and connect with my baby by being healthy. I began to feel Hannah’s strong kicks and I quickly realized how much she would be like my husband. I wanted to do everything to help her be strong and energetic throughout her life. I was beginning to look into cloth diapering because I found out it could save us thousands of dollars. All of a sudden, I was learning about the benefits of avoiding modern conveniences and natural childbirth kept popping up.

I finally rented a video (Laugh and Learn about Childbirth) to help decide our birth plan. I loved the nurse’s suggestion to relax in between the contractions. I had no idea that you got breaks in the pain, so birth seemed totally manageable if I could just breathe through the hard parts and then rest. After all, I’d been a yoga devotee for years and they weren’t asking me to last through a contraction any longer than some of the poses in class. However, the information about the epidural was a total turn-off. A huge needle to the back that doesn’t always work. It could result in a longer birth and I’d have to decide when to get it. Trying to figure out the magic point at which I would ask for an epidural was mind boggling. Plus, what if I couldn’t get to the hospital in time or it didn’t work. How was I going to get that baby out?

I tried to encourage my husband’s participation in the birth by getting him the book Husband Coached Childbirth by Dr. Bradley. He didn’t read too much of it, but I pored through it. For the first time, I was enjoying reading birth stories. The birth methods made sense and many of the preparations leading up to birth were things I was already doing. When I read that swimmers have a strong advantage during birth, I knew that with my husband’s help, that would be the best way for me to have Hannah. I let him coach me on swimming for the final months of the pregnancy and entered the hospital with the courage to have a natural birth five weeks before our expected due date. I’m so happy to have made that choice because an early baby is a fearful experience to begin with. Knowing that she would not be impacted by any medications made it much easier to welcome her into my arms.

Still, it wasn’t a “perfect birth” and there were things about being in the hospital that just didn’t seem right. After all, the cardinal rules of a healthy pregnancy are to avoid lying on your back, hydrate, eat healthy foods, and don’t use drugs. Why was a place that inhibited all those rules the “best” place to give birth? I learned that it is just as safe for a healthy mother to have a healthy baby under the care of a midwife and chose that for Audrey’s birth. If you read “There’s No Place Like Home,” then you already know it was the best choice I ever made.

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The Babymoon

Lots of couples take a Babymoon during pregnancy to enjoy one last vacation before Baby arrives. Feet up, no chores, relaxation, and maybe even a prenatal massage. It’s easy to think of a weekend getaway as a vacation. But did you ever think of the first weeks of your infant’s life as a vacation, too? Maybe it’s easier for me to think of it this way with a toddler in the house. I made the mistake of not resting enough my first time around, so I made a bigger effort to get the house prepped and my husband and some helpers on board to get through the first two weeks. Now, it’s drawing to a close and I know how much of a difference it made for everyone.

After my first pregnancy, I really struggled with my recovery because I didn’t feel that bad. I felt better than I thought I would after giving birth and truly empowered by the experience of a natural, non-medicated delivery. I started walking right away, not realizing the strain my body was going through trying to heal. In fact, it felt better to walk than to sit because of my episiotomy, so I figured I was just making progress toward getting better. Since Hannah was early I didn’t have as much time to prepare the house. We were the lucky recipients of a handful of meals to get us through, but I found myself in the kitchen more often than not because I didn’t have easily available snacks. Plus, I was so burnt out from the breast feeding/pumping/supplementing round-the-clock baby meals that I welcomed any help with those to give my weak arms and back a rest. Apparently the Lindsay Brin prenatal exercise series was helpful in developing arm strength, but no match for holding a 5 pound 13 oz infant all day. (Yes, my triceps were that sad.) So I sucked it up and plugged through 8 long weeks before I ultimately started to feel “normal.” I battled serious nursing issues and concerns with milk supply, not to mention the up and downs from the hormones. On top of that, I struggled with dreams that I couldn’t find the baby who was sleeping merely feet away. Plus, I regularly missed her kicks and the closeness we shared during the pregnancy. I could have chocked all this up to mild PPD and done everything the same this time around, but I changed the whole plan instead.

Having a second baby is absolute Heaven. We spend hours in bed together getting to know each other and developing a comfort level. I’m memorizing her face and her coos and the little expressions she makes. When she opens her eyes, I share her excitement at learning about her surroundings. I tell her everything I’m doing and make gentle oooos and aaahhhhs when she’s really alert. She’s nursing really well, sleeping great, and I am making so much milk. Everything baby-related feels like a huge success. The only hard part is the Older Sibling Blues. Since Hannah is just 14 months and barely walking, her care is generally beyond my capabilities right now. Of course I’m excited that she has a sister and I know in the long run she’ll forgive me for these weeks in bed. I just can’t wait to get through the post-partum stage and back on my feet with my girls!

It hasn’t been easy to stay put, but it’s made a huge difference. I’ve walked past the dirty dishes in favor of sitting on the couch nursing while Hannah plays in the room. I’m not worried that the laundry doesn’t get folded the way I do it or that my husband throws bras in the dryer. Maybe they make nursing bras so ugly so that you don’t mind if they get ruined by others who help around the house. I know I have a big job ahead of me with two little girls, but I’m ready for it. All it took was a little rest to get there.

Thank you to all my friends and family who’ve extended a hand or a kind word to help us and especially my husband, who has fought me kicking and screaming on this but somehow managed to wrangle our family and keep the house from burning down.

 

A Peaceful Homebirth at 39 Weeks Pregnant

There’s no place like home for a birth. On August 5 we welcomed Audrey into the world at home with the help of a skilled Midwife. It was an amazing, challenging, and peaceful experience that went exactly as planned. Although she won’t remember it, Audrey is truly lucky to be Born at Home.

My contractions began early Saturday afternoon. After a walk they reached a regular and consistent pattern for about two hours so we called my mother to pick up my 1 year old, Hannah. I called my midwife and she suggested I eat and rest, so I did just that. The contractions subsided through the evening and my husband and I both got plenty of sleep.

We woke up in the morning determined to restart labor 😉 and headed out for breakfast at a nice little cafe. Mild contractions started again on the ride, but they weren’t unsettling. I startled the waitress by questioning if our food arrived so quickly because my husband told her I was in labor. A few patrons congratulated us and we headed back home to take a short walk. We were beginning to make progress with stronger and faster contractions, but they eased up each time I stopped moving. I continued the delicate balance of trying to facilitate labor while not exerting myself until the early afternoon.

At two, we decided with the Midwives that I would go for a walk, take a nap, and after a meal they would break my water to help speed things along. The energy from my husband’s delicious pancakes was exactly what I needed as my labor immediately became stronger. I eased the pain by managing my breathing and took Tylenol. Relaxing between each contraction helped me conserve energy and the Midwives offered gentle massage and encouragement to help me through the more challenging pain. It was clear that I was making progress, but laying down was hindering Audrey’s passage.

I took a shower with my husband’s support and bore through three strong contractions. Afterwards I returned to bed and rested briefly before choosing an exercise ball for support to keep me more upright. I cried and whined like a baby. Well, not like Audrey because she rarely cries. The midwives encouraged me to use deeper sounds to redirect the energy down through my body. Cue tribal chanting sounds. It worked because the pain reached a plateau and I gathered the last of my strength to perch on a birthing stool. I felt the “ring of fire” and knew all the work was about to pay off. After strong pushes through three contractions Audrey was born into the hands of a midwife. I held her immediately and watched as she delicately opened her eyes for the first time. With newfound energy, I laid on the bed with her on my chest for several minutes. She was so willful as she moved her head and reached higher towards her first meal. I waited impatiently to deliver the placenta, but it finally came out during a contraction and I felt immediate relief as I nursed Audrey. She got cleaned up while I ate steak and mashed potatoes and then relaxed and bonded with her Dad during my shower.

The three of us fell asleep together and had no troubles meeting Audrey’s first needs of rest and milk. I relaxed and excitedly waited for the morning to introduce Audrey to her new best friend, Hannah. We’re all blessed to have Audrey in our home and our hearts, but her true gift in this world is being a sister.

Eco Baby’s Birth Story: Part 3

Eco Baby arrived in Part 2 of this series, so we’re done- right? Not even close!

A disappointing misconception within the general population is that the birth process ends when the baby arrives. Both neonatal care and maternal care would benefit from a huge overhaul within the hospital system. The main reason I’ve already decided that any future births for this family will take place with a midwife was the poor care we received directly after the birth and the non-existent follow-up care after leaving the hospital. Granted, this is not a decision I could have been confident about for my first birth because of nerves and a family history of c-sections. However, it’s one I will gladly make in the future. It’s because I’m selfish and I would like to have attentive, personalized care for both me and my baby. Call me crazy.

(Editor’s Note: Jeannette has the utmost respect for individuals in the health care profession. Many of the people she encountered during her stay were wonderful and professional. Her criticism is of the system that prevents personal attention. In general, I try to keep the messages on this blog light and positive. Unfortunately, this post will not have the same tone. I encourage you to read anyway because the more people are aware of this issue, the better chance there will be for change. After all, Maternal and Infant patients make up 38% of the healthcare industry’s yearly visitors. Don’t we deserve better?)

To be honest, it only hit me about 4 months ago that my maternity care was below par. I suppose I was living in “maternal bliss” and thinking about how wonderful it was to HAVE a baby! Who cared if I got off to a rough start with breast feeding? Did it matter that my recovery seemed to drag on longer than it should have? Would it really have helped to have a follow-up in-home visit to make sure I wasn’t at risk for some of the most painful nursing problems one can experience? Not in my mind! As long as I had a healthy baby, that was all that mattered. Looking back, I can’t help but feel mistreated and I found out I’m not alone. The CDC is pressing for improvements within the system. There’s even a group to establish the Maternal Health Accountability Act of 2011. Everyone comes into this world the same way, so this affects us all. It is more important than any other political act- but we have yet to hear about it in the presidential debates.

I’m not going to claim to be an expert on this subject, or submit a 932 page proposal to congress for a complete overhaul of the system. It just seems that in a country that touts superiority in the world, we should be much higher on the patient satisfaction scale for this type of care and we’re not. Why am I dissatisfied? My visits from the nurses were few and far between. They were rushed, forgetful, and disorganized (presumably because there were too few nurses for the number of patients.) It was more difficult to get regular Tylenol because it wasn’t on a list of standard drugs that new mothers could receive. I didn’t receive any topical treatments for my “bottom” until the second day, because it wasn’t clear that this was something I could ask for. When the only positive things I can say regarding the maternity ward are about the hospital food, you have to wonder if this was really a decent situation.

Enough about me, let’s talk about Baby Eco’s care. We were at a “rooming-in” hospital that promotes closeness of the mother and baby by encouraging you to have your baby in the room as much as possible. I can’t imagine what it’s like at other hospitals, because I barely got to spend more than 2 hours at a time with her. It was really difficult because I had to attempt to nurse her for 20 minutes, then pump for 15 minutes, then feed her a bottle for about 20 minutes. By the time we changed a diaper and got her re-swaddled (another 20 minutes #newparenthood), it was practically time to get her back to the nursery and then start all over. Not only was the feeding process difficult and time consuming, but the assistance came in quick bursts of an overwhelming amount of information.

In my county, there are 5 hospitals. Only 2 still offer Lactation Consultant services (one is part time.) During my stay, I didn’t see a consultant until nearly 12 hours after Hannah’s birth. I also saw three different consultants, each with different suggestions. I was given hurried details about using a pump to stimulate production and a shield to better fit my nipple to Hannah’s mouth. It’s no wonder we weren’t able to get a proper latch without those items- they only spent 1/2 hour with me at a given time. There is also no follow up care available to nursing mothers through the hospital. If you need support (which we did), you must see a lactation consultant at the rate of $150 for one hour. Starting next year, this service will be mandatory for health care to cover. It’s good to know that issues like this are being addressed and improved for the future.

Thankfully I had the support of my husband through it all. He fed Baby Eco many times and immediately developed a wonderful bond with her. He is
totally onboard for taking a more natural approach to our next birth. In fact, because of his general loss of confidence in the political system
and his love of the outdoors he’s hopeful that Armegeddon is around the corner, and I think he would happily deliver our baby on his own.

I have to hope that better care is out there. If you had a great experience and you shared it on a blog, please post a link in the comments. I’m not discouraged from having another baby, and I still regard this as one of the best experiences of my life, but I think that Mothers should be treated less like surgery patients and given the option to blissfully bring new life into this world with positive care practices.

Eco Baby’s Birth Story: Part 2

By now, I hope you read the first part of my birth story here, so you know things were just about to get interesting!

At 6 AM, it finally hit me. I had no idea what to do next. Until that point, things had gone exactly as I expected and I really felt like I was handling the birth well. Sure it was painful, but it was a natural type of pain that I knew would have an amazing reward. Not only would I get to meet my daughter, but I would finally get to lose that belly! My problem was that I hadn’t gotten a chance to really figure out how I wanted to deliver my baby. I didn’t know what position to do, I had no clue how to effectively breathe through the pushes, and forget pushing in general- that was practically a mystery. When my Doctor explained that it was almost time for me to push I said, “I didn’t get to that chapter in the book yet!” So she gave me a two minute crash course in what to do and we were off to the races in no time.

For as naturally as I sailed through the first stages of labor, you would have thought I was delivering a 12 pound bowling ball by the end of it. I also had the added bonus of experiencing a change-of-shift at 7 AM (mid contraction.) What’s this like? Well, imagine the scariest party of “A Baby Story” and then double the number of onlookers. Oh, and add a NICU pediatrician on call. Of course, the two doctors don’t have time to speak in the hallway about the patient status. Instead, one is at my side, the other pushing my leg up, and both are commanding me to push, Push, PUSH!! After another round of contractions that do not amount to a baby in my arms they begin debating:

D2 “Let me take over from here.”
D1 “She’s almost done I’ll just stay.”
D2 “Should we get the forceps.”
D1 “NO… She’s got so much hair, I should just grab it and pull.”

I’m grateful that my first doctor decided to stay through to deliver Eco Baby. (A month later, I found out that she went to church in her scrubs *bless her heart.) All told, I pushed for an hour and a half. It was unquestionably the longest part of my labor. Yes, I was that woman, yelling in pain and feeling like I was sinking because I could not get that baby out! When I finally thought it wasn’t going to happen, the team encouraged me through one last push (like you’ve never pushed before!!) and she was out. They immediately weighed her and I heard something about 5 pounds and some change. Then, the moment came when they handed me the squirming wonder. Of course she felt tiny, but I knew that if they were giving me time to hold her she would be just fine.


Eco Baby’s Birth Story: Part 1

For some reason, I knew that Eco Baby would be early the whole time I was pregnant. Even at the end, when people would ask when she was due I would reply, “Sometime between tomorrow and July 13.” Since I’m a planner and I have wonderful family and friends who helped set me up with a million wonderful baby items we were all ready for her when she decided to to make her early appearance!

Our birth story starts at about 10 PM on a dark, stormy night in June…

I had been feeling very tired and experienced some cramps earlier in the day, so I went to bed early after attending a picnic. A little after 10 I woke up because my water had broken. It wasn’t what I expected, so I didn’t even know that’s what it was at first. Mr. Eco called the doctor to let them know what happened. We waited about 15 minutes before leaving because we didn’t want to rush out into the storm for no reason. Luckily I had been collecting things for my hospital bag and simply needed to transfer them to a suitcase instead of packing from scratch. I even folded and put away some of Eco Baby’s new laundry that would be waiting for her when we got home. I realized that in that time I had 3 low-intensity contractions, so we left and I kept timing them. Lasting 30 seconds long every 5 minutes; this was textbook!

By midnight we were checked into the hospital and the nurse had hooked me up to the machines to start her observations. I told her and the doctor about my plan to have an unmedicated birth, so things were pretty simple on their part in the beginning. I decided to walk since I had heard that is a good way to keep labor moving. DH and I looped around the maternity ward a few times slowly with a stop at the nursery window each time. I could make it there just in time for a contraction, so I would stop and breathe through the pain while looking at the babies. The contractions felt like strong cramps that expanded through my back, but as long as I stood still they were manageable. After an hour, we returned to my room for the nurse to check on everything. She hooked me back up, but couldn’t tell me about much more than the baby’s heart rate because they like to avoid internal exams once the water breaks. She also ran an IV with fluids in case I changed my mind and wanted an epidural. I made the mistake of asking for a snack that would later come back up and then set on my way for another walk.

We continued that process (walk for an hour, go back to the room for a checkup) until about 3 AM. At that point the contractions had increased in pressure, duration, and frequency. It was time for me to lay down and work on breathing through the pain while trying to relax. Mr. Eco called his parents who were still awake on the West Coast and shocked them with the news that I was in labor. Of course his Dad didn’t believe him at first, so he held up the phone to the beeping machine to try to convince him. When he was still doubtful, I got on the phone and said, “You know I wouldn’t be awake if this baby weren’t on the way! Do you believe us now?”

When Mr. Eco went to scavenge for food, my contractions quickly became more intense. Our nurse, was wonderful and held my hand through them until he got back. She was quiet and peaceful, which mellowed me out. I was starting to wonder if I could really make it through without an epidural by 5 AM, so she did an exam and confirmed that I was well on the way to the third stage of labor. When she told me I’d be holding my baby early that morning if I stayed strong, I knew I could do it. I counted down the time through each contraction breathing evenly, and then closed my eyes and attempted to sleep in between them. Of course, you can’t get much sleep in 2 minutes, but that’s the best way to describe how to relax between contractions. It sure beats worrying about the pain from the one that’s on the way!

More to come soon… If you haven’t already read my introduction to this story it’s here.

Eco Baby’s Birth Story: Introduction

Welcome to a new series I’m planning to write for this blog about my pregnancy with Eco Baby. Overall, I felt that Eco Baby’s birth was an incredibly positive experience. Having an unmedicated labor went better than I could have hoped and made me confident in the health of my daughter. Since she was born several weeks early, it could have been a very scary time so I am proud to have gone the natural route and would encourage other Moms to make the same decision as well! I had never thought of myself as an athlete before, but after giving birth I felt like I had just completed a marathon. I got such a rush from the sense of accomplishment and the exhaustion, mixed with true love for our new baby.

There was a lot of preparation in the months and weeks leading up to her birth. I started with a healthy diet once the morning sickness passed. Then, I began exercising regularly when I regained my energy. I chose prenatal workout videos of yoga, cardio, and strength training. I also walked around the mall during my lunch breaks or walked around the neighborhood with Mr. Eco after work if the weather was nice. He helped encourage me to drink plenty of water, too. All these things were instrumental in my choice to have a natural birth.

It wasn’t until halfway through my pregnancy that I actually started considering that option. Mostly out of fear that for some reason I wouldn’t be able to have an epidural, I wanted to know how it would be done without one. The more I learned, the more it seemed like it should be my first choice and not my backup plan. I finally made the decision when I considered that (like me) many women are too scared to have their first baby the natural way, but think that they could do it the second time around. Why not my first time? I resolved to do everything I could to prepare myself for the natural birth plan, but to keep an open mind and do what seemed best for the baby when the time came around.

Initially I borrowed the book “Husband Coached Child Birth” for Mr. Eco, in the hope that he would learn how to support me during the delivery. Well, he didn’t read very much of it, but he was still a great resource for information because the book kept touting the benefits of swimming to pregnant women. Lucky me, married to a Rescue Swimmer. I needed to get into a pool with him- stat! We started swimming during our vacation in Florida and kept it up when we returned home. He showed me how to breathe in the pool and coached me to swim laps. If you can believe it, I didn’t even know you had to exhale prior to drawing in a new breath before we started. I quickly improved from controlled drowning to active swimming. Whenever I got tired or cold and wanted to quit, Mr. Eco prodded me along and sent me on a stroll to the other side of the pool. Then I would feel my little future Olympian kicking and I knew that this would be good practice for me to eventually keep up with her in the pool as well. I had just enough time to get the hang of swimming before Eco Baby decided it was time for us to meet!