Breech Homebirth surrounded by mothers (Dad was away on business!)
I wasn’t surprised to have sailed past my due date with my 5th baby. Fielding the phone calls, answering the questions about “when are you due?” had become so ingrained in public conversation that even my 4 year old son was wise enough to answer “Oh, the baby will come soon…” when questioned about my round belly. We weren’t rushing. Perhaps that is why my husband and I were at peace with his business travel (2 red eyes to Chicago) during my 41st week of pregnancy. (I had gone all the way to 42 weeks and 2 days with my 3rd son, so I wasn’t overly concerned). I remembered the wisdom of my previous homebirth midwife, Lora Burgess, who caught my daughter 2 years before. Lora had told me that at times, she felt that fathers, as wonderful as they are, sometimes do better when not involved in birth. Now, as I nurse my second daughter, I would have to agree. My husband and I made peace with the possibility that our baby may arrive without him, and we joked as he packed for his business trip. We made arrangements for my mother to stay over for 2 nights “just in case.”
I was talking on the phone with my husband after a whirlwind day that included a visit to my midwife, a trip to the grocery store, and one final ultrasound to confirm what we had known for weeks, that our baby was indeed breech, there was ample fluid, and that her particular position was still favorable for a vaginal birth at home. I had tried all of the non-invasive methods to encourage our baby to turn, chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, acupressure, massage, visualization, swimming, inversion positioning. I had even attempted an external cephalic version at the hospital where my midwife has privileges in the case of emergency transfer. All to no avail. Again, I resolved that my baby was breech for a reason, and we all went ahead with our plans for another homebirth.
My water broke with a pop as I was talking to Glenn on the phone. I rolled off the bed and hung up on him. (Unceremonious, I know, but tonight was the night!) I called Evelyn, our midwife, and noted that the fluid was clear. She asked to speak with my mother to give her some preliminary instructions, and I crawled down 2 flights of stairs to toss the phone at my mother and claw my way back up to my bedroom.
I closed the doors of my childrens’ bedrooms, and decided that crawling was best for me. I was swaying with my contractions, pausing to breathe and focus. Meanwhile, my mother turned my bedroom into a chux pad carpeted slippery mess….She laughed at her jittery energy and I remember looking at her sharply and telling her “No more talking!” (It was time to get down to business) She wanted to help me through the contractions, but her touch broke my concentration so she sat beside me and watched as I swayed on my hands and knees. I wanted to push but I didn’t because I didn’t know how dilated I was. My mother, perhaps remembering that our third son had arrived well in advance of our midwives got up to read the sheet on “Birth Without a Midwife” that my husband had left in a bit of a joke to her.
Evelyn arrived shortly and I told her it was time to push. She agreed. She checked me quickly and encouraged me through my next contraction, then resumed setting up her supplies. Christina, our family friend arrived next. She was on hand for the kids if they needed her. Next, our second midwife, Casey seemed to appear out of nowhere. She blended in with the surroundings as I had decided to stand up and find a comfortable position to push.
Once I stood, my mother and Christina both sprang up to assist me in a squat. I didn’t want their help. I started to imagine my husband pacing the floors of his hotel room like a Dad from the ‘50s, waiting for news on his wife and baby. I missed him only briefly, though as the contractions were intense, and I knew that I was surrounded by women who love me, women that I respect and love. I was surrounded by mothers who all labored at one time. With the next contraction, I began thinking of my midwife, the talented Lora Burgess who passed away last year, who worked with Evelyn who always said that there are some births that fathers shouldn’t attend. She was right… With each contraction, my midwives, my mother and my friend would breathe with me, sigh with me, and rest in between. They labored right with me and their support, along with counter pressure from Christina, and her whisperings of support and love made me feel that Lora was right in the room with us, nodding her approval and smiling.
I was still standing and pushing as Evelyn sat next to my feet. With breech babies, there are manipulations that often need to be made on the part of the attendant to help the baby out safely and quickly. Vaginal breech delivery is a lost art, indeed. Many midwives will not attend them, and fewer hospitals permit them unless they take place in an operating room with an epidural. (This was confirmed by the obstetrician who attempted my cephalic version…he was “willing to deliver my baby vaginally as long as I delivered on a monitor in the OR under epidural anesthesia.”….The thought of birth in an operating room as tools for a cesarean laid at the ready, undermining the body’s ability to birth naturally saddened me. I didn’t want a c-section unless my baby was in danger.
She never was. Her fluid was perfect, her placenta was posterior, her cord was adequate, and she merely arrived bottom first in 4 of the most intense pushes that I have ever experienced. With vertex babies (my previous 4 were posterior vertex), the “work” is basically over once the head and shoulders emerge. The rest of the baby sort of slithers out quickly. Not so with breech babies. I had to work for every inch of my baby daughter’s arrival. The first pushes of her birth exposed her bottom. (She pooped….not unusual for breech babies when their bottoms are exposed to the cool air). The next brought forth her legs because her hips were flexed and her legs were folded Indian style against her body. I roared with the push that brought her shoulders, and lastly, one enormous push later her head was born and I couldn’t believe that Evelyn was saying, “Carla, take your baby!” in a shocked voice.
Evelyn never needed the special techniques to encourage her arrival. She never needed to help guide her legs down, help free the cord, or reach up to guide her head down by the chin. My daughter and I had done it together, and all my midwife had to do was wait and catch. She later remarked that what was poised to be the most challenging birth of her month ended up being the fastest and easiest.
I was still in utter disbelief as I reached to take my newborn girl from between my knees. She was pink and perfect. I looked into the faces of my mothers, my support. They were all in a circle around me, each one of them with tears in their eyes, smiling. And Lora was there too.
We all laughed and chatted as we waited for the placenta. We had to wait for some time (about 45 minutes) as I was exhausted from pushing. I reclined on my bed, holding my baby who looked at me with piercingly dark eyes. We soaked one another in as I delivered her placenta and my midwife noted that I had a tear that required repair. I really didn’t want anyone near my tender perineum after such a dramatic birth. I felt bruised (I was), and I had never had a tear or stitches before. Christina, Casey and Evelyn all gently urged me to have the stitches, and finally I agreed. My labia were quite bruised, as was the baby’s because of the force of my pushes and the speed of her birth.
Niobe Clarke was born as babies have been for thousands of years: At home, surrounded by women and mothers. She weighed 8 pounds, 4 ounces (my largest baby!), and was 20 ¼ inches long. Rather than resign myself to a surgical birth, I put my faith in my body, by baby, my midwives and my support. My labor was not difficult. I was clearly focused, I visualized throughout my labor and I imagined holding my baby. Pushing Niobe into the world was the most intense sensation that I have ever experienced. More intense than any of my previous births. Again, I had to work for every inch of her arrival and the burning sensation of stretching and expanding that often characterizes crowning, I felt through the entire birth, from bum to top of the head.
The phone rang. It was Glenn calling to “see how things were going.” He was shocked when just 2 hours after hanging up the phone with me, he had a new daughter! He began frantically throwing his clothes into a suitcase and breathlessly told me that “if he had to jog,” he would be home as soon as possible… He managed to get onto a 6 am flight and was home hours later. I remember opening my eyes and seeing him, kneeling beside our bed staring us.
Sometime throughout the night, my 9 year old son wandered in and met his new sister. My 4 year old, awakened to use the bathroom, and hearing the voices, came in to investigate and meet his sister as well. The other 2 children, my 7 year old son and 2 year old daughter met Niobe just before breakfast.
All 5 of my births taught me amazing lessons about the body’s natural ability to nurture and bring forth life when properly supported. I am proud to have had 5 unmediated, vaginal, natural births, the first 2 in a hospital and the following 3 in my comfortable home. All of my labors were intense, though the pushing phases of the first 4 births were comfortable. Each one of my births taught me a bit more about myself and my body’s abilities. Niobe’s birth, however taught me to trust my baby and midwives as much as I trusted myself. I will always be grateful for the lessons of birth, but Niobe’s arrival taught me more about trusting the wisdom of babies than any other.