The Gift

The year was 1989. My first marriage had ended six years prior, in 1983, after years of abuse, both emotional and physical. As painful as the marriage was, divorce offered only limited relief, as custody, support and parenting conflicts were ongoing issues. I remarried in 1986, to a man who never planned to have children. Since I had two, marrying me represented a major change of life-plans for him. He took that commitment seriously – but made it very clear that two was enough. I didn’t understand how someone who had no desire to have their own children would take on step-kids. But I was totally in love, and he was kind and caring with my kids, ages eight and five in early 1985.

We married a year and a half later, in September 1986. Life was full. We did everything the psychology books say causes stress: we both quit our paycheck jobs, pooled our savings, opened our own business (YIKES!), got married, and moved into the house I bought just before our engagement – all in six months’ time! There was plenty to keep me busy – but truth be known, deep in my heart, I yearned to have a child with this man I loved. I really wanted to have the experience of raising (at least) one child that I wouldn’t have to “share” with someone whose parenting and lifestyle was so radically different than mine. Though neither of us had chosen to be permanently sterilized, he never seemed to waver from his made-up mind, so I did my best to accept that I would have to release that dream, and be grateful for what I had. We chose to simply be very “methodical” about birth control.

And, that worked – for the first two and a half years. Despite our diligence, my period was unusually late in April of ’89. Aaaand….that “premenstrual” breast tenderness never subsided. And since this wasn’t my first rodeo, I was quite familiar with the other symptoms that gradually became undeniable. So, I bought a pregnancy test at the drug store, and snuck it into my nightstand before bed, planning to take it with me when I got up to pee at 4:00 (something that had ONLY happened when I was pregnant…until then;-).

4:00 came, and true to the pattern of the last couple of weeks, I awoke to heed nature’s call. I quietly picked up my “stick” and went to the remote bathroom, so as not to wake my sleeping husband. I had already read the package insert, so knew what to do and what to watch for. The answer came before my bladder was empty: a clear blue +. There it was. No more guessing. My head was spinning as I paced a few circles in the family room before going back to bed. “How am I going to tell him?” I wondered. I really had no idea how he would respond.

After my quivering calmed down a bit, I went back to bed, my feet now cold from being “out” on a chilly early spring morning. Of course, cold feet are likely to awaken a warm partner, right? He rolled over and asked, “Where have you been? Are you ok?” I said, “Yes, I’m ok.” But he felt the “vibe,” so said, “What’s going on?” Not knowing how to postpone the news for a better time, I gave it up: “I’m pregnant.”

He gasped and smiled: “Really??” And gave me a huge hug. Then it was my turn: “Are YOU ok?” “Of course I am,” came his reply. “That’s awesome!” And he really meant it! I was so relieved – and so happy that God threw in His vote!

The pregnancy was normal and healthy. My family practice doctor had referred me to an OBGYN, who seemed to be very nice. We had to do some financial planning, because since we hadn’t planned on having any children, we had chosen a health plan that didn’t include maternity – that is, for normal childbirth. If I had complications or needed a cesarean section, its benefits would kick in. As comforting as that was, the likelihood was that I would give birth in the normal way – and the cost was unacceptable, even in 1989.

Then I remembered a couple I knew before we married, who had their babies at home. At the time, I thought they were crazy. But now…hmmm. So I got out my old Rolidex, and gave them a call. As soon as Pam heard my voice, she almost shouted, “Oh, you must be pregnant!!” I laughed, and said, “Yes, I am. Talk to me about homebirth.”

We had quite a long conversation. It ended with her giving me her midwife’s phone number. I was really happy that the midwife lived less than ten minutes from my house. I called, and made an appointment for an interview.

After the interview, I was pretty sure that this was the direction I wanted to go. Problem was, my husband wasn’t on board. His experience with hospitals was consistently “warm and fuzzy,” since his dad was a doctor and his mother a nurse. He has cerebral palsy. He’d had surgeries – done for no charge by his dad’s colleague and friend – to improve his mobility. When he had his tonsils out, and when he had pneumonia, where did he go? To the hospital, where his mom and dad were, and where everyone knew he was “Dr. Butler’s son.” He couldn’t understand this “hair-brained” idea of mine to give birth at home – that’s what hospitals are for! But I had done my homework, and gave him all the great statistics on the safety of homebirth with a midwife. Finally, in a last-ditch effort to convince me of my folly, he asked, “Have you thought about how you’re going to tell my parents that their first grandchild is going to be born at home??”

“So, we don’t have to tell ‘em. Just call after the baby is born, and say we didn’t make it to the hospital,” was my perfectly reasonable answer.

But one thing we have in common: we both really suck at lying. And I was about to learn that he’s not so good at keeping secrets, either. So I was there when he called his dad to talk about my crazy notion of wanting to give birth at home. Clearly, he was doing all the talking while his dad listened. Then there was a pause, and then I heard him ask, “So Dad, what do you think about your first grandchild being born at home?” Another pause, accompanied by an unmistakable, yet confusing release of tension. “Hmm. OK, thanks, Dad,” I heard him say, then the typical ending salutations, and he hung up, seemingly calm.

“So what did he say?” I asked, feeling a strange mixture of bewilderment and cautious optimism. “He said that if there are no problems with the pregnancy, about anyone can catch a baby in the basket.”

Hey-oh!!! Who’da thunk it?? My father-in-law, the doctor, was fine with the idea of homebirth! So my husband would go along with it, too. SWEEEEET!

The only thing left was to tell my doctor. I was a little nervous about that, as I really didn’t know her well, so had no idea how she would respond. At my next appointment, I told her that I had interviewed a midwife and was seriously considering a homebirth. I half-expected her to launch into a tirade warning me of the potential consequences of my foolishness. But instead, she sat down and reviewed my chart – probably for a full two minutes, which is a really long time in an OB appointment! Next, her words came slowly: “Well, you’re not an unreasonable risk for homebirth, but I don’t consider you a prime candidate, either.” Then she proceeded to explain why: with my history of big babies, she considered my biggest risks to be hemorrhage and shoulder dystocia, both of which can be life-threatening, and can happen with little to no warning. “So ask your midwife how she would handle those two circumstances. Take all the time you need to make your decision. It’s your birth, and you have a right to do it your way.”

Wow. I was blown away! I felt like I’d hit the doctor-lotto! Later, I learned that her grandmother was a Mexican midwife in southern Texas, so she grew up around midwives and homebirth – then went off to medical school and became an obstetrician. So she could “swing a scalpel” with the best of ‘em, but really, she had a midwife’s heart. She was my gynecologist until she retired in 2010. I still miss her!

Aaaaanyway, on with the story.

The pregnancy was great. We went to a homebirth preparation class, where I learned how much bad information I had been given about pregnancy and childbirth. That angered me. On the other hand, I was grateful to learn the facts, even if they came late.

My estimated due date was December 19, or so I thought. An ultrasound had estimated the 15th. Close. But who really knows? It’s called an estimated due date for a reason.

At about 2:30am on December 21, I bounded out of bed as I felt a sudden gush of warm water fill my sweatpants. My husband heard it (couldn’t miss it), and said, “What’s going on?” With my head just clearing from the sudden wake-up call, I told him, “My water just broke!”
We were both excited, but not panicked. We had learned that spontaneous rupture of membranes didn’t necessarily mean that labor was going to start right away. And I’d been experiencing no labor, so there was no reason to call my midwife. We decided to wait until after 6:30, as long as that was the case.

At 6:30, we notified her, and told her that I had only been having mild labor. She came over later, and checked the baby, who sounded great. After a few hours, the mild labor faded out to no labor, so she went home. The rest of the day…nothing. I sent my husband out to work, with a plan to page him (remember pagers?) if he needed to come home.

Another day, nothing. Midwife came over to listen to the baby, who sounded great. Water was leaking, and was clear. I had no fever and no elevated heart rate – no sign of infection. Took castor oil to try to stimulate labor. Didn’t work.

The next day, still not much. I was getting frustrated, and wondering why labor wouldn’t start. In my frustration, I thought to myself, “All this planning for a homebirth, and I may have to go to the hospital after all.” Eventually, I called the hospital, just to ask about what they would recommend. When I told the nurse that my water had broken two days ago, she about had a panic attack. “(gasp!)…you need to come in RIGHT AWAY! By now, you could have an infection, which is bad enough for the mom, but babies can DIE!” (The “dead baby card” played right at the get-go!)

“But, I have no signs of infection,” I reassured her. “YOU don’t know what you have!” was her quick response. “…and you don’t know what I know…” was the thought that never came out of my mouth. What came out of my mouth was, “OK, thank you for your advice.” As I hung up the phone, I looked at my husband and said, “I’m not going in. As soon as I cross the threshold, they’ll have me under the knife – or at least hooked up to Pitocin. I’m not doing it.”

Then I called my midwife again. She came over, checked the baby, who, like every time before, was still a happy little guy. Then she said, “Ya know, not only do you not have any medical indication of complications, I don’t have a bad feeling about this, either. But to tell the truth, I’ve never had a client go this long after rupture of membranes without going into labor. I’m going to Elliott’s (our local health food store) to get some herbs to get this going.”

She returned to cook up the most horrible tasting “witch’s brew” imaginable, and left me with instructions to take a big mouthful every half hour until labor started. By that evening, I was in labor.

I labored through the night. Honestly, I can’t tell you much about the process, except that I was really annoyed with my husband every time he started snoring! I would wake him up with the next contraction, obviously aggravated. He would say, “I’m sorry…I really am – but this is like watching someone with a back ache!” Boooo!

Finally, after about twelve hours of active labor, my midwife did a cervical check, and said, “You’re complete, and ready to push. Go empty your bladder. You’re about to have this baby.”

On the way back to my bed, I had this thought, “WHAT WAS I THINKING??? I WANT DRUGS!!” But what I said was, “I don’t think I can do this, Sally!” “Yes you can, because you’re about to do it right now!” came her reply. I hadn’t given much thought to any particular position for giving birth, but at that moment, the only thing I could do was get on my knees and lean over my bed. My husband went to get my older kids, then 10 and 13, to come in for the birth of their new sibling (no one had been told the sex). My sweet daughter assumed a prone position across my bed with her face close to mine. And as I let out a growl/howl/scream as the baby began his descent, she asked with a fearful tone, “Mommy, are you going to die?” I was actually tempted to say yes, but even in that intense state, I knew that reply would probably scar her for life! So I said, “No, I’m just pushing!”

And that’s about all the time there was. In the third push, out he came – fast. My midwife called him the “bullet baby.” It was 5:37am on Christmas Eve. Before I could look at him, I heard his precious cry. He sounded like a little lamb. I never wanted a video of the birth, but if I could do it over, I would definitely record his first cry. I will always remember that sound. Nothing could have made it any more magical. He was born into a room full of love, received by a midwife’s loving hands, handed over to his father, then to his sister, then to his brother. We were all instantly in love!

Later that morning, we had more fun than we could stand, taking pictures of our new baby in his car seat with a bow on top, under the Christmas tree. Then we put him in a big stocking…oh, it was the happiest Christmas of our lives!

If you’re still with me, thank you! Can you believe this is the short version?? I hope you’ve enjoyed the story. And I hope that because of it, you might consider homebirth a reasonable option, especially if you’re experiencing a healthy pregnancy. I would welcome your questions.

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