From Homebirth Dreams to Hospital Reality

Embracing Motherhood

October in St. Louis felt like summer. If it weren’t for the calendar proof, you wouldn’t know it was autumn. In 2005, I was in the best health of my life. Physically strong, and with a diet packed with fresh fruit and vegetables, I had been preparing for the hardest work of my life yet. I was going to have a baby, and I was going to birth my baby at home.

My doctor was renowned locally for being the longest-practicing doctor to attend home births in the area. His office was located in what was once a home, and the setting felt familiar and comforting. I had been coming regularly through my pregnancy, which I was nearing the end of.

Waiting for my doctor, I looked at the model that stood on the table near me, a baby perfectly positioned in the birth canal. I thought about the wall of photos along the path to the exam room, the faces of mothers and their new babies, and Dr. Duhart in each one. I would soon be pictured among those beaming faces. I was anxious to talk with my doctor, today was my due date. I knew I could remain pregnant for another week or two, as this was my first pregnancy and I had yet to feel a contraction.

As he walked into the room, he smiled and looked at my chart. His warm, fatherly presence always put me at ease.

“Your urine looks good, and your blood pressure is fine,” he said in his familiar accented voice. “How are you feeling?”

“I feel good,” I said enthusiastically. ”I think I feel a little butt crammed up under my rib cage, but other than that, great.”

“I want to do an internal exam, if that is ok with you?”

I paused, considering. I had not planned on any internal exams, unless necessary. I had heard stories of “accidental” membrane stripping, something I wanted to avoid. Five weeks ago he had done an internal exam, which resulted in spotting, pain, and no information about the baby’s position. On the other hand, I had not yet experienced a contraction. No prodromal labor, not a twinge. And this was starting to concern me.

“That’s fine,” I consented, thinking maybe this would move the process along.

It was quick, but not painless. I focused on the wall where a poster hung, depicting the month-by-month stages of fetal development.

Removing the gloves with a snap, he looked up and said, “I feel toes.”

“Toes?” I was so sure I had been feeling my baby’s butt under my ribs the last few weeks.

“Toes,” he continued. “He’s in single footling breech position. I”’m sorry, I don’t feel comfortable attending a first-breech birth at home.”

I sat stunned as he continued to tell me my options. He could drop me to the hospital in the city. An external version may be a possibility. I would likely need a cesarean section. I barely heard him, thinking about what this meant. I had done everything right! Daily prenatal yoga, walking, and clean eating, I had planned a homebirth before I was even pregnant. And now I would be giving birth in a hospital, on my back. No candles and low vocalizations on a birth ball. No walking around my home, doing last-minute clean-ups as I breathed through my contractions, visualizing the peaceful birth of my baby.

“I need to interview hospitals,” I said. I had to exert some control. “I need to talk to my husband.”

My mind raced. Could I do anything to encourage this baby to turn? Was I really going to have a baby in a hospital?

The leaves on the trees in the parking lot of the library had turned to reds and golds. Still warm in the early evening sun, I arrived at my monthly attachment parenting meeting. I spotted my friends in the parking lot and struggled not to cry.

“He’s breech.”

Arms reached out. The advice started to come fast and varied.

“Have you tried homeopathy?”

“Do you have a chiropractor?”

“I can give you the name of my OB, she’s wonderful.”

“This isn’t a failure, just a change in plans.”

That night, supported by these amazing women, I started making new plans. I knew the plans I had for my peaceful home birth were dead, but I could do everything in my power to encourage my baby to turn. I would also start planning for the unbelievable surgery I was now facing.

The next week was a flurry of appointments and activity. Acupressure, moxibustion, and homeopathic pulsatilla. We toured the hospital my doctor offered to take me to and it felt wrong. I was armed with my list of questions and could feel the looks when I told my story.

“I was planning a home birth, but the baby is breech.”

“You were planning what?” “Why?” The nurse I was interviewing frowned at me, brow furrowed.

My friend with the wonderful OB called me. “She won’t take you on. She doesn’t want to be responsible for anything going wrong.”

In between calls out for an OB, at home, I was still doing yoga and visualizing my baby turning. I began to feel desperate. I propped myself on an ironing board, light shining at my nether regions and my husband urging the baby to turn toward his voice.

“If I could only get to a swimming pool,” I told my husband “I read doing a handstand in water could get a baby to turn.”

He eyed my enormous belly dubiously.

I think I had finally resigned myself to the cesarean when I found myself in a tub of warm water, a bag of frozen peas resting where my son’s head would be. As my skin got colder, I snatched off the peas, murmuring, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, baby.”

It was Sunday, now four days past my due date. We had driven out to an apple orchard, another get-together with my friends from my parenting group. The orchard was packed with mothers. Babies strapped to their chests in carriers of various, vibrant colors. Babies were nursed, and children played on the hay bales. The fragrance of apple cider and popcorn filled the air. My friends crowded around to hear how I was feeling and how our plans were forming. I heard more stories ranging from happy hospital births to unassisted deliveries at home.

As the sun set, we made our way home. From the highway, I spotted the hospital a friend had told me about delivering at. I told my husband to get off at the exit. We pulled into the parking lot and followed the signs for the labor and delivery department.

I was greeted warmly by the intake nurse, and while I told her my story, her face lit up and she told me she knew Dr. Duhart and had a son delivered by him herself. She understood. She wasn’t judging me and the rest of our conversation flowed smoothly. All the important concerns in my birth plan were standard practice in this hospital, unlike many of the others I had encountered. She gave me the information for a woman doctor who delivered at the hospital and we went home.

Monday, I met with Dr. Bucy, who would become my doctor. Her office had many of the same models and posters as my previous doctors’, but it was still an office in a hospital. Not the renovated cozy house I had regularly visited throughout my pregnancy.

“I can do the cesarean Thursday morning,” she said. We agreed, and after talking over the procedure, she asked us if we wanted her to pray with us.

I looked at my husband and then back at her before dissolving into tears.

“Do you think I’m going to die?” I sobbed. I wasn’t religious, I was sure this meant she had some concern about the baby or me.

“No!” she reassured me. “It often makes people feel better.”

In that state, facing the surgery, I consented. It couldn’t hurt, I thought.

Thursday morning came cold and rainy. The weather had changed dramatically in the past week and it made me feel uneasy. I wasn’t allowed to eat the night before and I was feeling cramped from sleeping on hands and knees over a body pillow, yet another last-ditch effort to will my son to turn his head down in my uterus.

“I still haven’t felt a contraction,” I remarked as we drove the twenty minutes to the hospital. The sky was all dark clouds and rain beaded up on the passenger side window.

In my room, I was poked again and again as the nurse attempted to get a stubborn IV into my hand. This already felt so different from all of my expectations. Another nurse took my blood pressure and shaved me.

“It would feel more spa-like if you could give me a Brazilian while you’re down there,” I nervously joked. “Is there wi-fi in this place?”

Soon I was shivering in the operating room. I was terrified of having a needle inserted in my spine for the epidural. I quelled this thought with the thought of my son, who would be born within the hour.

As I was draped and marked, the anesthesiologist murmured in my ear that everything would be fine. I couldn’t see or feel the surgery, and his voice helped keep me calm. My husband watched as our son was pulled out.

“He’s beautiful!” he exclaimed, coming around to my side of the screen.

He was ok. The extra week on the inside had not harmed him. My baby was here.

I listened as he slapped his feet. They wanted him to cry and push any fluid from his chest. My doctor sutured me up and urged the nurses to put him on my chest as soon as they could. I was grateful for that. I felt everyone was holding and touching him but me.

That night, in between visits for temperature checks and my son’s cries to nurse, I realized all my plans about the birth were a drop in the bucket of this process. I was now a mother. No matter how much I planned or prepared, life would unfold in exactly the way it would. It was up to me to bend and grow in response to it. I couldn’t plan perfectly, but I could plan to do my best.

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