Benjamin’s birth story: a homebirth non-emergent hospital transfer
On Thursday, August 5, 2021, around 11:30 p.m., I was startled awake by what I thought was just an urge to poop. I had my very own charcuterie board for dinner, so I wasn’t surprised. When I got to the bathroom, I realized it was period-like cramps (and poop). I’d heard of prodromal labor and figured it was just my body preparing for birth (certain we were at least a couple more weeks out, as I was 38 weeks, 5 days).
I laid back down to sleep, but about four minutes later, 30 seconds of cramps again. I let this continue for an hour before I got up to take a bath. My doulas recommended the “bath test” to see if I was truly in labor—if it’s not “true labor,” contractions will stop with a bath. To my surprise, they didn’t stop. I decided to text the doulas and quietly tell Kyle, my husband, that *things* were happening.
A few hours and a few more visits to the bathroom later, contractions remained about 30-45 seconds long, four minutes apart. They were manageable and I was fairly comfortable.
At 4 a.m. on August 6, contractions began to pick up, averaging a minute long and 3-4 minutes apart. I told Kyle I was ready for the doula. Less than 30 minutes later, our doula, Tracy, arrived. She was the sweetest, calming presence. She reassured me that I was doing great and all was progressing as it should. Soon after, Kyle called the midwives. They arrived and confirmed I was in active labor. At the time, they felt the baby’s position (LOT) and confirmed we were in good shape.
Things got a little blurry as I entered laborland. I labored in our bedroom. It was dark, calm, and quiet. I remember not wanting to lay down, sitting and bouncing on the birth ball, and feeling the warm water on my back in the shower. Soft words of encouragement from my doula and from Kyle. Endless counter pressure, hip squeezes, hot rice bags, cold compresses, head and shoulder rubs. Contractions began coming on top of each other. At first, I was coping well and felt confident in my patterns and progress. Then, at some point, the back labor kicked in.
By noon I was in excruciating pain and despite my intense contraction patterns, I hadn’t progressed. We determined the baby was no longer in an optimal position, so we tried Spinning Babies moves (something we’d practiced every night during the third trimester), rebozo, tinctures, and a few other tricks, to no avail.
My midwives suggested it was time for a change in plans and asked me how I felt, reminding me that there is a difference between pain and suffering. In between contractions, I decided it would be in our best interest to transfer to a hospital for an epidural. I was heartbroken. This was not the birth I had envisioned.
The midwives left the room, so it was just Kyle, the doula, and me. She asked me if I was at peace with the decision, and at first, I was not. But Kyle reminded me that we had truly tried everything, that I was strong and should be proud of the progress I’d made. Still at 3cm after 12 hours of labor, I was discouraged.
The midwives called my collaborative care OB/GYN, Dr. Robinson at Alabama Women’s Wellness Center and faxed over my records so I could be directly admitted. I labored for another two hours before we were in the car, on the way to the hospital. I had met with Dr. Robinson earlier in my pregnancy for the anatomy scan and to discuss alternative birth plans in case I would need them.
Laboring in the car wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be, the windows were down, it was sunny out, and Kyle was quietly holding space for me while very cautiously avoiding bumps in the road. Unfortunately, because of COVID-19 protocol, I had to choose only two people to accompany me. I chose Kyle and my homebirth midwife.
At 2:50 p.m., we were at labor and delivery registration. By 3:30 p.m. we were finally in a room. Contractions were the worst they’d been and I was frantically trying to get comfortable and breathe. I had to have a bag of fluids before the anaesthesiologist could give me the epidural. Another 45 minutes of excruciating back labor. Then, he was called into a c-section.
This part felt like forever, I was pissed, and I was sure that I could not go on.
Finally, he arrived and was ready to place my epidural. I asked if we could wait to go in between contractions, but he said they were coming too close together. That I’d have to stay completely still. At the time, I didn’t know I was in transition (!!!).
Once the epidural was placed, I felt immediate relief (like a new person who hadn’t been awake since Thursday morning). The nurse came in to check me right afterward and I was at 10cm, complete (!!!).
Luckily the nurse-midwife from my OB/GYN practice, Katrina Dial CNM, was on call. She encouraged me to get a couple of hours of rest, then we could talk about delivery. I rested (but didn’t sleep). I asked her to check me when she came back in, and I was back at 6cm, water still intact. This wasn’t a surprise to us based on the education we’d received about epidurals.
She was confident we could get back to 10cm by breaking my waters and with some side-lying peanut ball time, without even mentioning Pitocin (although I knew if we didn’t progress, that’s where we were headed). Sure enough and to my relief, by midnight, and after chowing down some fruit and CFA, we were ready for birth.
We tried a few different positions, but the most productive was supported, left-side-lying. I pushed slow and controlled for just over two hours. His vitals remained strong, and I felt energized. It was not painful. My homebirth midwife, who was with us the entire time, brought over a mirror so I could see him crowning.
With one, final push, he was born at 2:18 a.m. on Saturday, August 7, 2021, crying before he was all the way out. It was one of the most surreal moments of my life.
Only three providers were in the room: my nurse, the baby nurse, and the nurse-midwife. Kyle and my homebirth midwife were there as well—the perfect support team. He was immediately placed on my chest, where he stayed for over an hour. Kyle cut his umbilical cord about an hour after birth, once it was completely white and had stopped pulsating.
Over the next 36 hours that we were at the hospital, he only left our room once (to get his bilirubin test so we could be discharged). Our choices were respected and we were well taken care of.
While his birth wasn’t what I’d envisioned, it’s one we were well prepared for. Our education, our support system, and our care team all came through to make our “Plan B” a beautiful, calm, and safe experience.
I don’t think of it as a “failed homebirth” because we did all we could, labored at home for as long as possible, and exhausted every avenue before resorting to our next plan. I’m proud of my body and how Benjamin and I worked together through some serious challenges to bring him earthside. Every birth is different, and each one is beautiful in its own way.