My son Leo was born on the evening of August 14th, in our uncharacteristically quiet home. The girls were at my parent's house, swimming with their cousins. It was a textbook pregnancy and birth until the final push when things got a little wild, but I'll come back to that in a moment.
The reason I chose a home birth is because my doctor informed me that our local hospital would not let me labor naturally because I've had two c-sections. I had the first one because Vivian was breech, and I had the second one because I was a week overdue with Sofia and I was told it was the safest decision. In hindsight, surgery probably wasn't really needed in either case, but I didn't know that at the time.
This time around, it was obvious that my doctor empathized with my desire to avoid another surgery, but she also was fearful of the idea of me having a vaginal birth because of my slightly increased risk of uterine rupture. However, the risk (even with the two c-sections) was still very low, so I wasn't concerned about it, especially since everything about my pregnancy was great. Despite all the fears and warnings from others, I knew I could finally have a natural labor this time. My mindset has shifted in so many ways over the last four years that I no longer needed those people to validate my choices to move forward with my plan.
I'm not a super crunchy person, to be honest. I do like grass-fed beef and non-toxic cleaning products and medical freedom, but I'm probably not the typical home birth type. My ideal scenario would've been to labor freely at the hospital with Jeff and a doula, surrounded by all the life-saving things. But, sadly, I wasn't given that choice.
Thankfully, I found a midwife who was not intimidated by my c-sections and who agreed to help me have a natural, unmedicated birth at home. She was familiar with the risks associated with my situation, incredibly knowledgable, calm, and attentive to all of my questions and concerns. There's just no comparison between the care I received from her versus the care from the local women's health clinic. Both are high-quality providers, but my midwife actually made the prenatal and postpartum experience relaxing and pleasant. We had long, candid conversations about pretty much everything, I could text her whenever I had questions, and she went above and beyond to make ensure my delivery was as smooth as possible. She even prayed with me and for me during the most painful parts.
All in all, my labor was efficient. I was a week "overdue" when my water finally broke, possibly thanks to sex, lemon cupcakes, pineapple, walking, or all of the above. I was afraid to reach 42 weeks until my midwife explained that (like uterine rupture) the risk associated with it is very slight, despite it often being presented as significant. Once I relaxed and embraced the natural timeline, my water broke soon after, and early labor began within 24 hours.
That part is just a funny, touching, difficult blur. Jeff was a great birth coach and kept me focused and comfortable and laughing. I ate lots of lasagna, zucchini bread, and honey, and drank too many of those LiquidIV Hydration drinks. Make yourself pee, ladies. I forgot to do that as often as I should, despite plenty of reminders. It will make your life easier once the baby comes out.
At one point, Jeff and the midwife and I sat outside and enjoyed the strangely cool weather, and I FaceTimed with my mother, who did a remarkable job of hiding how scared she was (thanks, Mom!) and I said hello to the girls before another contraction ended the call. By then, they were getting strong enough that I had to stop and work through them. The pain in my back was intensifying, so we moved the labor back to the bedroom, and Jeff was ready to press a hot pad on my lower back whenever the next contraction surged.
I only remember little snippets of the active labor. We tried to watch Oscar to distract me (a wildly underrated Stallone movie) but that didn't last long. I also listened to this song on repeat and did the Miles Circuit to keep things moving. Finally, I reached the point where it truly felt like I couldn't handle the pain anymore. I asked everyone to pray for me, but secretly I didn't think I was going to have my homebirth after all. I was crying because of my back, and I was completely exhausted.
But then I felt like pushing. And lemme tell you this, folks: No one can prepare you for the pushing. That's a level of pain that you can understand only through personal experience. I screamed so loudly near Jeff's ear during one push that the midwife's assistant offered him earplugs. It was that bad. My mind was totally fixed on the pain and prayer when the midwife said, "Carmen, you need to push your baby out now."
His head was already out, but I wasn't having any more contractions, so I panicked. It's hard to know why the contractions stopped...either the cord was holding him up, or I possibly had a placental abruption. Regardless, I pushed with everything I had, which was pretty incredible considering that my body was completely spent (so much so that Jeff had to hold one of my legs in place so I didn't collapse), and Leo was finally born.
This last part is hard for me to write about, but I want to praise God through it. When I looked at him, I was scared. Terrified, honestly. He was slack and purple. Later, I learned that he'd swallowed more blood than usual, so he was "swooning," which is why the midwife gave him two gentle rescue breaths. I couldn't tell then, but Jeff was as scared as I was, but it all changed in a just few moments when Leo coughed and gargled and my heart stopped plummeting as the midwife placed him on my chest.
He continued coughing and clearing out his little lungs for the next minute or two, and in hindsight that will be one of the most precious, praiseworthy sounds I've ever heard in my life. So, with the help of some truly wonderful people, I did the hardest thing I've ever done, and my beautiful son was my reward.
For a few days, the memories of the pain and fear were so strong that I questioned if I would ever do it again, but now that I've had more time to reflect on it, I see how the experience solidified my awe in God's design and grace, and how it drastically changed my perception of my own strength.
The aftermath wasn't anything terribly unique. Lots of aches and pains and bodily fluids (I'll spare everyone the details) that slowly tapered off with time. I wouldn't say that it was an "easier" recovery than recovering from a c-section because in some ways it wasn't, but I will say that Leo is more alert than his sisters were, my own memories are sharper, my hormones seem more balanced, and my body is much more rapidly returning to my pre-pregnacy shape.
There's really no way around it: Birth is challenging and scary, but for me it's always a profoundly transforming process, and God's hands are all over it.
My advice to others who are interested in a homebirth:
You need a wonderful, competent, highly-reccommended midwife. If you don't jive or she doesn't seem to know her stuff, move on to other options.
Don't let other people's fears motivate your decisions. We see so much of that driving people, especially right now. Understand the real risks and make reasonable decisions.
Prepare for the postpartum period as much as the labor! Especially if you have little kids. The hardest part of this recovery was tending a newborn + two toddlers. Whole new ballgame, and you're going to need some help!
When you're recovered enough to resume your routine, be present and enjoy your children. Let the little things go and train your mind to be in a state of thankfulness and contentment regardless of the chaos. It's a blessing to you, but it's also a blessing to them.