An Unplanned Homebirth

I found out I was pregnant in June of 2014 and it shook my whole world. I was a woman dead set on not ever having children. It wasn’t something I had ever seen for myself and it certainly wasn’t something I was prepared for – mentally or spiritually. And, to be honest, the concept of “Mother” scared the hell out of me.

So it was pretty wild. Not that getting pregnant is an inherently wild thing to have happen. It’s just that ME getting pregnant was totally and completely unexpected. My husband, Mike, and I were getting ready to go on our annual friends camping trip to Broken Bow, OK and two days before we left I went to Planned Parenthood to find out for sure. I was supposed to be out gathering last minute gear for the trip, but instead I was peeing into a tiny plastic cup and receiving the biggest, scariest, news of my life. When I came home late and broke the news to Mike his response couldn’t have been funnier. With tears in my eyes and a variety of emotions weighing heavily on my heart I walked in and said, “Well, Mike, I’m pregnant.” To which he responded (with a very odd, half smiling, half knock-me-over-with-a-feather, confused look), “I… I thought you were buying a tent?” That last half of the sentence went up in pitch a few octaves as it came out. Then, he burst out into laughter!

He embraced it immediately. For me, it actually took a while to get used to the idea of this huge role change. I had a pretty big ‘oh shit’ moment which was accompanied by a mini meltdown. It was crazy for me to make the shift in mindset from one of never ever wanting to have kids to, all of a sudden, being a mom.

After everything started to sink in though and we really started to talk about who and what we wanted to be as parents, I started to feel more and more at ease with the situation that had been presented to us. We talked and talked about our fears, our philosophies of life, things our parents did right and wrong and what we would do differently. We talked, and still talk about how to be positive facilitators for the life of this, then kid-to-be on our planet. About how we want to be good teachers and guides, trustworthy and honest, always. The list goes on! So after several of these rather cathartic conversations “Mother” became something else. Not some horrifying job to hide from and fear, but instead a beautiful opportunity to try and help a new human become something wonderful.

Looking back now on that first day and how Mike so effortlessly accepted our new fate puts a smile on my face. It, and our journey through this so far, made me respect and love him in a way like ever before.

Now for a little backstory…

Even though I never wanted children of my own I had had the opportunity a few years ago to bear witness to the birth of my nephew at a birthing center in North Carolina. It was a first for me on many levels – my first time attending the birth of a human, my first time to experience the true beauty of an open adoption, and of course, my first time to see a midwife at work. Up to that point in my life it was the single most beautiful thing of which I had ever been a part.

My sister labored in an environment unlike anything I ever thought possible for giving birth. It was calm, dark, intimate and private, yet still warm and inviting. Soft music played in the background and the five of us (the birth father, the adoptive parents, myself, and my sister’s midwife) were only concerned with her and the baby. There was an overwhelming sense of love and devotion to this woman and the boy that would soon fill all our hearts with unfathomable joy. She never screamed, she moaned. She didn’t hyperventilate, she slowly breathed. She didn’t bawl, she wept soft tears of powerful emotion. In short, it was the complete opposite of everything I had been led to believe birth entailed and it changed me. I thought that day, “I don’t ever want to give birth myself, but if I had to, I’d want it to be like this.”

So when I knew I was going to be a mother, I instantly knew that I wanted to use a midwife. And through online searches and countless readings of birthing forums I found Heart’s Desire Midwifery Care. The midwives were all knowledgeable and welcoming, and the center was warm, inviting, and located in a small town much like the one where I grew up. Not only that, but they had horses on site that were sensitive to laboring women! Upon my first visit, I instantly felt at home. I had found the place where I wanted to give birth.

Ok, on to the rest!

So, after meeting the incredible ladies at Heart’s Desire and deciding to use the inimitable Molly Germash as my midwife, I started the prenatal regimen. Everything was going so well, I wasn’t sick, had tons of energy, was still running and exercising every day and, after many conversations with Mike and Molly, was feeling even better about my new role. Then in what seemed like no time at all, it was time to have our sonogram and lay eyes on our baby. We were so excited! Until, that is, halfway through the process the sonographer saw something unusual. To her, the shadowy area outside our daughter’s lung was a “unilateral right pleural effusion,” or rather, a 2mm thick pocket of fluid between her right lung and chest wall. To us, it was fear captured in black and grey on a tiny screen.

When it was all over Molly and the sonographer told us not to worry too much (easier said than done) and that they would do some research on what it meant. Well, what it meant was pretty scary stuff. Turns out, a pleural effusion is associated with some wild conditions. Everything from Down’s syndrome, Turner’s syndrome, Noonan’s syndrome, 50% fetal mortality rate…. to absolutely nothing. The list was horrifying and confusing. To get a better understanding of what was happening, Molly referred us, and came with us, to a perinatologist in Dallas for a more in depth sonogram. He gave us reassurance that everything would probably be ok as the pleural effusion (PE) was so small, but he wanted to see me back in a couple of weeks to check it again. Two weeks later it had gone from 2mm to 5mm – which was still ok, but at that point he recommended we do a genetic screen and see a fetal cardiologist.

A week after that we were back again and this time the PE was gone! We were still going to be able to have an out of hospital birth! Then we went back again and saw that somehow the PE had come back. And this time it was bigger. This time, when asked about an out of hospital birth, the perinatologist said it wasn’t a good idea and recommended I find a perinatologist closer to home so I could have weekly sonograms and non-stress tests to monitor the baby. I was devastated. Not only was there something wrong with the little girl I was growing, but my dream of having a beautifully calm, natural, intervention free out of hospital birth was squashed.

So there we were, new parents-to-be faced with some hard news. Our daughter possibly having to undergo surgery immediately after birth to remove fluid from her chest was so scary, that she might have an undeveloped lung because of that fluid, or that she could develop fluid on her brain was even scarier. Thankfully though we had Molly there to help us as things were getting tough. She was with us the whole way as counsellor, medical interpreter, and friend.

When we found our perinatologist in Fort Worth Molly was with us for the first appointment and was key to helping us put together a new, let’s make the best of a bad situation, birth plan. What that plan entailed was getting in with the UNT midwife group at Harris Downtown. With them, I would still be able to have a birth somewhat close to the one we had originally envisioned. I could have a natural, intervention-free, mostly calm labor/birth, it would just take place inside the hospital so if our daughter needed immediate medical attention she would have it on the spot.

Even though I would be transferring my care to another group of midwives, Molly, midwife extraordinaire, would stay with me and act as my doula. It was so reassuring to know that she would be there. Then, a few days later I got a wonderful surprise when she offered to be my monitrice – she would be more than a doula. It would mean that when labor began she would come to our house and monitor things as a home birth midwife would but help determine when it was the right time to move to the hospital for the actual birth. Well, that was the plan anyway.

Fast forward to February 11th. After having weekly sonograms and fetal heart monitoring tests with the perinatologist things were finally looking better. We had had 5 weeks in a row where the PE was getting smaller and smaller. It was a befuddling miracle. We had gone from our daughter having, at its largest, a 1.5cm pocket of fluid squishing her right lung to suddenly everything being ok. And the craziest thing was that none of the doctors could give us any explanation for why it would do this. I had been following the dietary changes that Molly recommended to minimize excessive fluids. Maybe that had helped as hoped. Anyway, I had another sonogram the morning of the 11th and this time, the PE was gone! Her right lung had filled the place of the fluid pocket beautifully and we finally had some peace of mind that she was going to be alright.

After yoga class and going to pick up dinner for Mike and myself I came home and thought I had peed in my pants when Mike made me laugh (lovely, right?). That was about 8pm. No contractions, feeling good, generally happy. I called Molly for help telling the difference between amniotic fluid and pee and after talking we figured out it was AF and that my water had officially “broken”, it was really only a trickle though. Anyway, she said to eat, go to bed, and enjoy the rest while I still could since this first stage of labor could last 12-24 hours. She instructed me to labor quietly as much as possible and call her when I needed her. She would head my way then and get to work for me/us.

At about 9:30pm I kissed Mike and was off to bed. 10 or 15 minutes later I decided a hot shower sounded divine and off I went to the bathroom. I must’ve been in the shower 15 minutes before I was suddenly propelled to my knees by some incredible force and I knew I was having contractions. I HAD to be on my hands and knees. I threw up and banged on the shower wall to get Mike’s attention so he could call Molly. Things were feeling different – powerful. VERY POWERFUL.

Mike called Molly a little after 10pm and said we needed her there. The power, the pressure, everything was quickly getting more intense. That’s when I started thinking that, if this was the ramp up to real labor, my god was I in for it! So Molly left to come over and was at our house at 11:05pm. By this time I had moved to the bathroom floor and could hardly make a sound other than a low pitched moan. All the while Mike was doing his best to stay calm and rub my back and hips while we waited for Molly.

Once Molly was there she set up her small kit, assessed the situation, and came into the bathroom to check my internal progress. This was about 11:15. She put on her gloves, checked my cervix and said, “Kat, you’re at 9-1/2 cm and she’s coming. If we’re going to the hospital then we need to leave right now. But, if we go, you’re going to have to not push during the trip.”

I couldn’t move, but I somehow managed to decide that it was too late. The urge to push was so strong, instinctive, and primal. The only thing I knew I could do was surrender to it completely.

Molly ran to her car to get her big birthing kit (which she just happened to have with her since she had another client ready to have a home birth at any moment!) and, after quickly setting up for birth, she and Mike moved me from the bathroom floor to our bed. This was around 11:30pm.

As I lay there on my side a tidal wave would sweep over me and I had to push, had to groan, had to release all the tension I knew wouldn’t help.

I looked in the mirror to see the top of her head and within minutes there came another push. Then relief and a feeling of euphoria, then I heard her cry and she was on my chest. Mike and Molly had unexpectedly delivered our daughter into the world. I don’t think I could’ve done it without Molly and my husband. They were so calm and reassuring that it gave me the confidence to be totally present and unafraid.

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Total active labor was about two hours, what the medical community calls “precipitous labor.” It was strong, fast, and incredibly intense. Oh, and the whole time, Dewey (our big black cat), was next to me in bed and wouldn’t leave my side. Whenever I felt a contraction I would moan and feel Dewey push his head into my arm. I could hear him purring and feel the heat of his body the whole time. He even cried out with me during labor. It was amazing, I call him my Midcat now.

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I’m not a religious person, but fate, the universe, god, whatever you choose to call that force binding us all together was working with us the day she was born.

I am eternally grateful to Molly and Heart’s Desire Midwifery Care. She, and the whole experience, were so much more than I ever imagined they would be.
We did go to the hospital about 5 hours after the birth for recommended assessment for our baby. Happily she checked out just fine and I was able to transfer care back to Molly for her routine 12 weeks of postpartum care.

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