When I became a doula 5 months after my VBAC birth, I didn’t “believe” in home birth. As if home birth needs me to believe in it (ha!). And less than a year and a half later I would be giving birth in a fishy pool in my living room. I had preconceived notions about home birth being unsafe, about mothers and babies dying, about home birth being something only radical and rebellious people did (I hadn’t quite tuned into that part of my life yet). And yet, when I decided on my youngest son’s 1st birthday to have another baby, and subsequently found myself pregnant 3 weeks later, I couldn’t help but feel curious about it.
One of the moms in my neighborhood was a student midwife. I met her on the playground when I was a few weeks away from my VBAC birth. She had a 6 week old in a ring sling on her chest. I had just moved to the neighborhood and I knew she was my people. We became fast friends. We got together often with our children, we talked about motherhood. She and I talked about birth, a lot. I had become a doula and she was learning all about midwifery care and out-of-hospital birth in her program. She shared with me that she was learning that most of the emergencies that happen during birth happen because of interventions done at the hospital. That when a woman and a labor are left undisturbed, that emergencies are rare. As my doula practice grew I began to notice how often when medical interventions were used the often snowballed into more and more interventions.
These conversations and my doula experience opened my mind up to the possibility that there might be something different. That home birth might be a good option for me. Going to the hospital was so awful during my first birth, and the thing I dreaded most during my second. I started to think about the fact that for all but 1 hour of my VBAC labor I was alone, in my home with my partner, not under the care or supervision of a medical professional. No one was checking heart tones, no one was checking my blood pressure, no one was checking my cervix. That if I opted for a home birth I would quite possibly have MORE medical care than if I opted for a hospital birth. That a midwife would come and be with me, eyes on me, checking me and baby and administering care as needed. And if I needed an induction, an epidural, a cesarean, I just needed to hop in the car and go to the hospital. I started to see that planning a home birth was not a rejection of traditional hospital care, but an addition to it. I was creating more options for myself.
On the morning of my birth I woke up at 5:20am, just like my VBAC labor, feeling small contractions. My two older kids had slept over my mother’s house the night before in a last ditch effort at a date night before we welcomed our daughter. We had gone out for Indian food and I couldn’t get comfortable during the meal because I was having very intense Braxton Hicks contractions. So intense that looking back on how the birth unfolded they were much more likely to be early labor. When we got home that night I had a new and strange pain in my pelvis. I laid on my bed and had my husband put counter pressure on the right side of my pelvis. In retrospect I think that she had dropped down into my pelvis. I went to sleep and woke up a few times over the night to some tightenings, but immediately went back to sleep. At 5:20 though, I started to time them. With this beginning of my labor seemingly so similar to my VBAC birth, I had this idea in my head that I would have the exact same labor. How wrong I was!
By 6 I was feeling regular waves that were gentle but noticeable. Around 7:30 I texted my midwife, Susan, to let her know I was in labor (breaking my own rule as a doula—always call if you are in labor!!) and went to get bagels with my husband. My previous birth (my VBAC) had started off at the same time and I enjoyed a gentle 15 hour early labor with waves coming and going all day. It never really occurred to me that this birth would be any different from that and I assumed I would be giving birth under the cover of darkness.
By the time we got home with bagels at 8 my surges were coming regularly and they were stopping me in my tracks. I needed to moan to get through them and they required my full attention. My appetite for my breakfast was gone and I sipped water when I could. My husband started to look a little frantic–which is extremely out of character for him–and I remember asking him why he was running around trying to get the pool set up and everything ready. His response was, “you sound like you did last time about 4 hours before you gave birth.” Little did we both know he was almost exactly right down to the minute!
I finally asked my mother to join (this was my third child but the first birth she would be in the room for. It was very important for me to have her with me and for her to witness her granddaughter’s birth. And for her to see me in all of the rawness that birth requires.) I reached out to Susan and suggested she “stop by” and leave if her presence wasn’t required. In all of her wisdom she was already on her way over to my house. The baby would come 2 hours after she got to my door.
When she arrived it was like welcoming an old friend. There is a gentleness, a kindness, a light that surrounds Susan that puts everyone at ease. My mother immediately relaxed at her presence and it felt like a social event. I was so relaxed and calm that the waves were actually catching me off guard. In between I would come out of my trance and we would all chat about the baby or some other light topic. When my surges called my attention back I was almost always confused for a beat as I had truly almost forgotten that I was in my birthing time. There is a picture below with me smiling and holding a water glass. This picture is time stamped 11:06 and the baby was born at 11:41. The mood was calm and relaxed and I wanted the labor to last for hours more!
I had one wave in my hallway that changed the entire mood. It was twice as long as the others and I felt her head move down. From that point on there was no more laughter, no more chatting. I stayed deeply attentive to my body and my work from that point on. I made the decision to enter the birth pool and while trying to change out of my dress and into a sports bra I was hit with back to back surges. Again and again I was rocked by huge, powerful waves. I moaned and moved my body while Susan massaged my lower back. Finally I had a brief respite and I made my move to the pool. I sat down in the water and enjoyed the change of location and feeling of warm liquid surrounding me. Suddenly I found myself thrown over the side of the pool and I felt the baby’s head moving down quickly and stretching my body. I tried as hard as I could to make her stop moving down and realized that I was screaming at the top of my lungs. This moment was such a departure from how the rest of the labor had gone. I was not ready for her to come. I felt panicked and scared and completely out of control. I knew that if I hadn’t resisted she would have come out in that one surge. My body was pushing her! Susan centered me and helped me to find my husband on the other side of the birth pool. His strong hands supported my head while I rested, waiting for the next surge.
It took about 4 waves of me resisting the urge to push her out and helping her to ease down so that I wouldn’t tear. On the last surge I felt the peak and she slipped out of me into Susan’s waiting hands. I hadn’t pushed once! My body pushed her out while I tried to slow everything down. It was such an amazing change from the coached pushing I had experienced (and loathed) in the hospital for my last birth. She came right to my chest and I got to memorize her instantly. My sweet Anabelle, the final piece to complete my family. Words cannot describe the love.
I have had many different birthing experiences.. I had an induction and epidural and cesarean with my first, a hospital vbac with my second, and now a home birth with my third. The thing that continues to surprise me about this birth is how normal it all was. I was in my home, in my clothes, in my comfort. After the baby was born I was in my bed and my family streamed in and out all day to meet the newest member. It was boring! In the best way! There was no anxiety about when to go to the hospital. There was no advocating for myself or worrying about separation or germs or any of the discomfort of going to a strange institution with bright lights and being asked the strangest questions while laboring. It was so normal and calm and it just made so much sense. My memories of this birth are linked to the different rooms in my house. My sons came and met their sister in the bed that they both shared with us as infants. That night I was hungry and my daughter and husband were asleep in bed with me. I got up and made myself a sandwich! To think! No IV, no getting woken up for vitals, no recording breastfeeding schedules for the nurses. The entire experience was so completely normal.
When I decided to give birth at home I felt like I was doing something radical. Like I was going against the grain and the establishment and really taking a stand for my health and my experience. Which is still true. But it’s punctuated by the utter normalcy of home birth. I loved this birth and I wouldn’t change a thing!
I am grateful for all of my birthing experiences. I am so happy to be on this path, building a community of providers that support moms, working to revolutionize the baby shower industry into one that includes gifts of support for mothers. Each of my births was so different and I was a different person at the beginning and end of each of them. Thank you for taking the time to read my stories!
Kaitlin is a mother of three, a doula, and a passionate advocate for access to care during all stages of motherhood. After a traumatic first birth and a transformative VBAC in 2014 she trained with DONA International and began her doula practice. After having her last baby at home in 2016 she co-founded True Birth, a doula team serving families across Long Island, NY. She served on the council of the Long Island Doula Association from 2017-2019 and in 2019 founded Be Her Village, an online gift registry connecting new parents with support services and creating access to funds to pay for this vital support. When she is not working to improve motherhood Kaitlin loves playing chess, cooking, and hiking.
© Gwen Schroeder |Rebirth Photography
© Monet Nicole