Paala’s Story

May 5, 2014

To understand my birth story, I should really start with my journey into motherhood until now. As I sit in bed here with my newborn on my chest resting not 10 feet from the place in which my child was born, I am filled with so much love and faith in my body and my new baby. I feel a deeper connection to my older children now as well, as my confidence in myself as a mother is stronger than ever before. It gives me hope that all birthing women will someday feel this elation and trust.

Now, despite my babymoon bliss, I still feel regret over my first birth. But I know that if it hadn’t been for my mistreatment during pregnancy and birth during my first entrance into motherhood, I might not have been so determined to find my own way during my second and third pregnancies and births.

My Traumatic Unplanned Cesarean for Breech

To make a long story short, I took the typical hospital route with my first pregnancy. I didn’t question the routine tests and procedures that I was put through, despite being the lowest risk “patient” possible. I didn’t feel comfortable with my OB but didn’t want to hassle with finding someone better suited to me and my natural birth goals. I didn’t consider homebirth because my insurance didn’t cover it and I didn’t have any friends who had one. When an ultrasound found that my child was breech, my OB wanted to immediately schedule a c-section. I should have left her care immediately but I didn’t. I went in for a couple of external cephalic version attempts and during my second one at just about 39 weeks, I was told I was in early labor and I could either have a c/s right then or an emergency c/s later that day. Instead of standing up for myself and my baby and refusing a medically unnecessary, potentially life-threatening surgery and finding other options, such a s trying other natural flipping options or even just trusting myself to birth vaginally, I allowed myself to be coerced by a doctor who just wanted me to have a c-section on a Friday afternoon to get it over with before the weekend. I was left with a deep mistrust of the maternity care system here in America.

My healing HBAC

For my second birth, I knew I needed to be out of the hospital to feel safe from unnecessary medical interventions, pressure to conform to the standards, and the stress of fighting with “care providers” to feel autonomy over my birth. I planned a homebirth and sought out a caring midwife who trusted in birth more than that her presence was necessary. I thought about having her sit out for the birth, as I felt a call deep inside that told me that I might want to birth my baby all alone, but in the end I didn’t trust myself enough. As much as I told myself otherwise, I wasn’t completely confident in my body yet because I still felt I had been left a little mentally broken from my last birth. Although I had a much less stressful pregnancy, having all of my prenatal visits in the comfort on my own home, I allowed myself to feel worried about emergencies in birth that a medical expert was surely necessary for. I had an 18 hour labor at home with just a couple of hours of intense labor there at the end, and birthed my daughter on my knees, upright in bed, while holding on to my husband’s shoulders. My midwife caught the baby and handed her to me and I was exhausted but proud of myself and my daughter. We had climbed that mountain of labor together and as I looked at her newness, I felt mended by her entrance. My second birth was definitely a healing and empowering experience, birthing my baby the way my body was designed to do it.

Before even becoming pregnant for the third time, I reflected on my last birth experience, my favorite parts and small regrets, and I felt one hundred percent called to give birth to my child alone, or just with my family present. My regrets were small, just that I wished I had declined even more of the standard testing and routines which only caused me stress due to false positives. And there was one day my midwife couldn’t find a heartbeat, even when I knew my baby was well and kicking all day. I allowed myself to feel fear when I should have just trusted my baby and myself. I also wished I had complete faith in myself to birth without asking someone outside of myself, a “birth professional” for permission. A few contractions before my daughter was born, my body felt like it wanted to push and instead of just doing it, listening to myself and my instincts, I asked to be checked to see if I was completely dilated yet. I didn’t allow myself to be completely in charge because there was an “expert” there, and I felt I had to be given permission.

Unassisted Pregnancy

When I became pregnant in early May of 2013, I knew immediately that I was pregnant. I was beyond excited. I just knew it right after conception and my intuition was confirmed a few days later when my breasts became sore and hurt during breastfeeding. A couple of weeks later I took a pregnancy test to show my husband because I knew he needed to see “proof” to believe it. And of course, it was positive. Thus began my journey through pregnancy for the third time. Thankfully, my husband was on board with my desire to have our baby in our home again, as it just makes sense to us. Then I wondered, should I hire a midwife for prenatal care or just have a completely stress-free, non-medicalized pregnancy as well? And what about a backup midwife for the birth?

Since my last midwife had already moved away from the area and I didn’t feel called to have that woman-to-woman motherly support like last time, I was positive I didn’t want to make a new connection with a complete stranger for prenatal care or allow them into my home to witness me birth. I thought for a while that my husband didn’t support this desire, to have an unassisted birth, but after we discussed it I found out that he was supportive of my plans. I accepted my instincts, that an unhindered, physiological pregnancy and birth was the right thing for me, this baby, and our family.

I suppose it sounds like all I wanted was to push everything and everyone away but I felt intensely private about this new baby and my pregnancy. That must sound funny considering I did a weekly pregnancy update here but I didn’t feel the need to look outside of myself to be told that my baby was growing and that I was healthy. I wasn’t going to bring the state regulations inside of my home like I did the last time and I blatantly refused to relinquish my control, to look to anyone else for permission.

My third pregnancy was just wonderful. I just lived my life with my two girls running around, surrounded myself only with those who supported me and I was thrilled to be completely separated from the former stresses of constant prenatal checks of the hospital and being treated like I was a patient with an illness. I reveled in my baby’s growth and constant kicking. I ate well and took care of myself. I observed my usual pregnancy symptoms of increased sensitivity while breastfeeding, the first trimester exhaustion, and feeling faint while my blood volume increased. I told myself I would seek care if I felt I needed it but there was never a time I felt ill at ease. I went to the chiropractor for a lower back twinge the last couple of months and the only other care provider I saw was a sonographer at 13 weeks to check the sex of my growing baby. We really just wanted to know if we were having another little girl or our first boy. We selected the same sonographer we hired for our last baby’s ultrasound and he asserted we were having our third girl. We were over the moon! Three girls? How lucky could we be! My eldest nicknamed her Rose.

Over the months, I did as much research as I could on how to handle any of the rare birth complications, gathered my birth supplies, and did what I could to mentally prepare for labor and birth. I watched videos of only unassisted births. I turned to my local circle of mother friends and support groups online to talk about pregnancy and birth stories. I listened to weekly podcasts about trusting physiological pregnancy and birth and started doing prenatal yoga to help open myself up during the final couple of months. I arranged for a couple of close friends who had natural or unassisted births to be available in case I changed my mind about needing womanly support in labor. I felt completely at peace with my upcoming birth, listening to my friends share their stories at my Blessingway at 38 weeks.

And so labor began…

It was a rainy Sunday morning, Groundhog’s Day. I was a few days past my 40 week mark but was expecting to wait another week or so for the baby, as my last girl was 10 days past her “due date.” The girls were busy in the other room when I thought it might be a good day to convince my husband that we should have sex. If the baby came soon, it’d be weeks until I’d feel comfortable again. I was a bit worried about how low the baby was in my cervix, as I had felt my baby lowering herself for the last week or two, but it was fine. Then, during my morning shower right after, I felt a real early labor contraction. It was about 8:30 in the morning. I blushed to myself, wondering if the sex is what brought it on just like the old-wives tales say. I checked my cervix, which had been closed the day before, and it was open a couple of centimeters or so, enough for my finger to swish around. I was excited but didn’t want to get my hopes up too high, in case I still had days to go.

I kept my revelation to myself as I made a big birthday breakfast for my mother-in-law who was 75 that day. Everyone had been joking for weeks that the baby was waiting to share her birthday for her grandmother and I chucked to myself, thinking she might actually be born today after all. As I was cooking and then cleaning up the kitchen, I felt regular, low cramping contractions 10-15 minutes apart or so. I was happy that they were still coming, that it wasn’t just one contraction and then nothing. A small note about my timing in my story is that for months I had be telling myself that I didn’t want to time the contractions, that I wanted to go about my day like any other day and not to think too much about clocks, following one, and certainly not charting my contractions. But I do have clocks in every room in my home and in my car so I naturally observed a clock when I thought about it.

Things were still mild and easy by the time I needed to go to prenatal yoga so I decided to just go. I wanted to just go about my day as usual until things became serious. So I drove myself to pick up my friend, who was also my prenatal yoga teacher at 11:30. I had a more painful contraction in the car when I arrived at her home but I figured it was from being cramped in the car that made it worse. I told my friend that I was having early labor contractions and she was immediately enthusiastic and in awe that I was driving. She shared my news with everyone in yoga during introductions. I was embarrassed to be on the spot like that but was happy to be in a supportive environment. I enjoyed being in a room in a circle with other barefoot pregnant mothers and hearing from everyone one last time. I remained hopeful the class would gently open me up and let me have my baby today.

The class was so relaxing and my contractions were still around every 10 minutes or more from what I could guess looking at the wall clock occasionally, nothing big, but I did have to rock on hands and knees and breathe through some of them near the end of class. When I was waiting at the front desk for my ID to check out of the YMCA where the prenatal class was, I had to close my eyes and lean on the desk through a contraction. The front desk person asked me if I was okay. I thought, “Oh man, if people are asking me if I’m okay, I wonder how much longer I have.” Outside of the Y, I paused to breathe through a contraction with my friend, who I must mention also had an unassisted birth a couple of years before, was at my side. Then I finished up, remembered where my car was, walked right around the corner and unlocked it. My friend was concerned about my ability to drive, and said she wouldn’t have known where her car was if it was her in labor right then. I replied that I was fine and joked, “Of course I know where the car is! Things are not that serious yet. If I’m smiling…See this smile? If I’m smiling, I’m fine. When the smile is gone, I’m not fine!”

So I got into the car with my friend at 2pm to drop her off and then go home. We stopped by a newspaper stand to pick up an article she and some of my other mom friends had interviewed for on their unassisted births. I had interviewed as well, my plans for my birth being unassisted, but told the author I didn’t want any of my plans to be included in the article if the baby didn’t come before printing. I didn’t want the pressure to succeed or fail, my plans being the media completely open to the world like that. Anyway, I parked and had a contraction while she ran inside. It felt seriously uncomfortable. I had to get out of the car soon, I thought to myself. She got back in and then I dropped her off a couple blocks away, looked at the clock and wondered if I could make it home before having another serious contraction. (To clarify, the YMCA was less than a mile from my home and I never went more than 2 miles from my house while driving my friend around. It was all very local, close to home driving.)

As I was parked for a minute, I decided it was a good time to text my husband and my closest mother friends, telling them I was in early labor and today might be the day. Then I had two more intense contractions on the way home and thought, “I shouldn’t be driving! How can pregnant ladies go to the hospital in cars? This is awful!!” When I got home at 2:20, my husband was home with the girls, waiting on me. We were all supposed to go to his mother’s birthday party down the road with everyone else in the family. I told him I didn’t want to go to the birthday party because I wanted to labor in the shower at home in peace, not surrounded by all those kids running around and all the family members. So, I sent my husband off with the girls around 2:30, thinking I had at least a few more hours to go. I immediately started the shower, got in, and felt the relief of the hot water on my skin. However, my contractions got even more serious, closer together and more painful. I felt myself shake through a contraction and I immediately knew that this was a sign that birth was near for me. I remembered shaky contractions happening shortly before the pushing phase of my last birth.

At that point, I was feeling extra emotional. I was upset that my husband hadn’t set up the camera or video camera on the tripod before he left and that he didn’t put my cell phone near me in the shower either. I was upset that I was going to miss all of my much desired labor and birth photos and for sure the video! But there wasn’t much time for lamenting. I knew I had to get out of the shower as soon as I had a break from a contraction, to move as fast as I could to the living room to find my phone to call my husband to tell him to come home. It was only about 20-25 minutes after he left at this point. I found and dialed my phone while having a contraction in the living room. Then I hobbled back to the hallway toward the bathroom because it felt like I had to poop and I didn’t want to poop on the floor. A major contraction started coming on and I threw down my towel underneath me, got on all fours, and realized I’d pooped a little. I felt embarrassed, as I didn’t think I’d pooped during labor the last time, but thankfully no one was around. Then I felt my baby’s body come as low as I thought it would go before crowning. I started to panic, thinking this baby would come on its own in one more contraction. I dialed my husband again and asked if he’d left yet. I told him to “COME HOME NOW!” as urgently as I could and dropped the phone on the floor. I wished I hadn’t hung up as soon as I dropped it, worried I wasn’t even going to have my husband to listen to me birth, even if he wasn’t going to make it in time.

I moved over a couple feet to the bathroom to sit on the toilet to try and poop out anything else I had in there. I wasn’t sure I had pooped, I just felt a lot of pressure, like the baby was there, so checked my butt with my fingers and was annoyed I’d gotten poop on them. I cleaned up my fingers with some toilet paper and used some toilet paper to push against my hemorrhoids that I could feel, just to try to keep them from popping out like my last birth. I screamed all of sudden as one more big contraction came and I felt the baby and the ring of fire. At this point I began begging. I begged and pleaded with my baby to wait, wait until Papa arrived. I was shaky and standing now. I reached down and felt my amniotic sac bulging through my vagina. I made a conscious effort to not push at all but my body was doing all of pushing. So this was the fetal ejection reflex, I thought. Then, finally, I heard the front door unlock and my husband walk in and drop his keys. I yelled at him to hurry but the yelling made the baby move lower. My husband ran down the hall, arriving with about 15 seconds to spare until the birth. He looked wild eyed but calm, standing at the doorway in front of me where I was standing with my baby crowning, commenting that he could see the baby. Then the baby came, just as I had my hands on the sac and head with my husband’s hands supporting mine and making sure the baby didn’t slip, and that was it! My baby was born en caul nearly all the way but the sac broke as our hands caught her and it splashed all over the tile under my feet. I didn’t have time to think of anything except that I had just done it. We did it.

My baby was born at 3:15pm on Sunday February 2nd, 2014.

I sat down on the toilet behind me, holding my little baby covered in fluid and vernix. My husband brought us a towel while I spoke my first words to my baby, welcoming her to the world, congratulating her, telling her she was beautiful. After a few minutes, I decided to move us to the bath so I could birth the placenta and keep warm in the water. It was in the bath, twenty minutes or more later that my husband decided to check the sex of our child. We just assumed she was a girl because that’s what we were told by a sonographer. My husband said later that he decided to check because she wasn’t as beautiful as the last two babies were right after birth. And sure enough, she was not a she. It was a boy! We were floored. We started laughing. There was a penis and balls between our child’s legs! Where was the vagina? We were told we were having a girl! It was all too hysterical.

After an hour or so, I decided maybe I should try and push out my placenta but my cord was so short, I figured I’d need my husband to hold our son now. The cord looked white and limp so we cut it. Unfortunately, our son jerked like he could feel it, and I immediately felt awful. I thought we had waiting long enough but we could tell by his instant reaction that he had felt his connection severed. There was still some blood in the cord and I can only hope it didn’t cause him pain. But perhaps it did. We just don’t know. I would say that this was my one real regret. Everything about this pregnancy and birth was done to help protect our child from unnecessary testing, stress, and pain and I felt like we’d just caused him some pain ourselves. I almost cried after seeing him react to his cord being cut, I was so emotional about it. But we had to move on with it. We tied the cord off with floss and then I attempted to squat in the tub and push a tiny bit but my placenta wasn’t ready yet. I could see the amniotic sac hanging out with the cut cord. I wanted to be finished but I was tired and a little scared of the afterpains I knew would come as soon as I pushed the placenta out. After resting some more and getting some more warm water in the tub, I tried squatting again and my placenta bulged halfway out, looking at bit like a head, my husband observed. I retorted, “No! We are not having twins!” though that was a fear of mine the whole pregnancy. I was relieved I was not having surprise twins! After another few minutes, the rest came out and I inspected it after putting it in a kitchen bowl. There were a few clots in the cord and on the surface of the placenta, with one small tear but no missing chunks. Eventually my son and I moved to the bed and cozied up skin to skin, breastfeeding and resting. The grandparents brought our girls home a couple of hours later and all was right in our world.

Reflections

My son is breastfeeding contentedly now, and I am feeling a mild afterpain cramp, smelling the newborn aroma around me. My girls just woke up from a nap next to me and their brother as well and I feel so happy for my son, my family, and of course for myself. I had envisioned this birth, wished that I could have a fast, standing birth without any complications or after birth scares. It was really just simple and normal, nothing out of the ordinary at all. No one poked or prodded me or my son. He still hasn’t been weighed or measured yet. Maybe we’ll do that tomorrow. And we’re still trying to discover his name. We have not moved from a 20 foot radius of where he was born and I am so thankful that I have had this completely unhindered, physiological birth experience. My first birth was taken from me before I realized I should have fought for it. My second was a stepping stone to believing in myself and birth. And now, I know that I can do it. I am strong. My body is capable.

~ Paala Secor

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