Many people have asked me the reasons I chose to have a homebirth. It came down to one very simple sentiment: I liked the idea of our baby being born in the place we would raise her and call home. And ultimately, because of the midwifery model of care.
The stories I had heard growing up about childbirth and what I’d seen in the media made me uncomfortable and I wanted to do things differently. I wanted an experience that honored childbirth as a natural life occurrence and that recognized me as the best person to make decisions about that life occurrence. I wanted the right to choose the type of care my baby and I received and the freedom to choose the setting where she would be born. I envisioned a quiet, peaceful birth– one that would require a comfortable and safe space to go inward without too many outside distractions, noises or interventions. I had known what type of birthing experience I wanted but I did not know that there were people who could help me make it a reality until a friend told me about the recent birth of her daughter and the wonderful experience she had with her midwife.
At my first appointment in the midwife’s office I was warmly welcomed by Maria who invited me in to sit with her so we could go over my chart and medical history as well as important documents from her practice. She was both professional and comforting, listened to my concerns about my care to date with my ob-gyn and heard my goals for the future. As we talked my eyes scanned the room: there was a bookshelf lined with birth books for loan and a bulletin board with photos of newborn babies and the bigger round faces of older, grinning babies. She had attended the births of almost all of these babies and had cared for their mothers. She had caught almost a thousand babies. Maria had an antique desk where she kept her things. It was neat and tidy. After we went over important paperwork she led me to the antique doctor’s exam table where I reclined so she could feel my belly with her hands. I wasn’t far enough along yet for her to find baby’s positioning but we listened to baby’s heart beat. I marveled at the magic the tiny handheld device permitted us to hear. As I listened my eyes caught the hand-painted belly cast hanging on the wall– a memento from her pregnancy with her daughter. Maria told me her daughter’s name, a name I was considering if our baby was a girl, and we talked about her many years working with midwives catching babies in Haiti. I felt I was in the hands of a strong and trustworthy woman. Maria was the type of person I wanted to be at my birth. Together we began charting my baby’s growth and my journey into motherhood.
Preparing for birth meant I was getting ready to embark on an unpredictable, intense and intimate experience and getting ready for birth at home meant there would be some unique things I would have to prepare. One of my tasks was to gather a box of supplies: chux pads, towels, hydrogen peroxide, a croc pot, receiving blankets wrapped in foil, oxy clean, hand sanitizer, drinking straws, a metal bowl and a strainer, among other things. I did not understand what all of these things would be for at first but they made sense later. Gathering the supplies made things more real for me. When I spoke of my plans to have a homebirth I tried to reiterate that it was a hope of mine to have this type of birth while remaining open that the situation could go in ways I wasn’t expecting. This was important to me to start the process of accepting an alternative outcome if there happened to be one. Being in this mindset prepared me to be in the present moment and accept the places my pregnancy and ultimately the birth would lead me to. I wanted nothing more than to have the birth at home. It meant I would have all the things that are important to me: my bed, my pets, my husband cooking in the kitchen…familiar smells and sounds. Birthing at home would provide me with freedom to move and be uninhibited in my own space. But I had to be realistic and flexible if things didn’t go as planned.
When we decided to move for numerous reasons when I was six months pregnant I had to find my strength and accept the changes that were ahead of me, pack our things and find a new midwife. This was not an easy time for me to accept change but the new house would provide us with a more suitable location for the birth and for raising our baby. So we went on with it and began planning our homebirth with a new midwife that maria referred us to.
I visited Mason in her office and sunk into the comfortable couch. I was sitting with another strong woman who caught babies for a living and her student who was training to become a midwife as well. The experience was overwhelming but I had faith that everything would work out the way it was meant to. Because we were in a different county things were not as relaxed as they had felt in Maria’s office. There was more talk of risks and back-up hospitals and choices we would have to make for myself and our baby. But my partner reassured me that she had our best interests at heart and to stay focused.
In one of my most memorable visits with Mason she guided her hands dutifully around my rounded belly and felt for baby’s positioning. This time we knew she was a girl. “Ah, here is a foot.” She led my finger to feel one of baby’s feet, then down her leg and along her back. “Here is her arm and hand, and here is her head. She has one hand down by her face.” It made everything surreal about being pregnant feel real. I loved feeling my baby’s hand and foot, her leg, arm and back, and imagining her little hand resting by her cheek. I felt her moving so much, but wasn’t sure what was where. It was amazing to have Mason feel with her hands and explain to me what she was felt. It was a grounding experience in this new chapter of my pregnancy.
In subsequent visits I met the other midwives in Mason’s practice. They could easily be at my birth because baby was due during the holidays. It was another layer that added to my acceptance of alternative outcomes and something I wrestled with because one of the reasons I had been drawn to midwifery care was that it afforded the predictability of knowing who would be at my birth. But all midwives have backup midwives so it was just something I would have to be prepared to work with.
It was around the time that I met the backup midwives that I found Rosy who would become my doula. I was immediately drawn to Rosy and her energy. Being in Rosy’s presence was like sitting in warm, radiant sunshine. Rosy was a positive, grounding force in my late pregnancy, someone who asked me important questions and gently reminded me to look inward and reflect. She understood me and the things that were important to me. I’m so glad I had her by my side. She was the first person I called to my house after a long night of contractions.
I called Rosy at 7:30 in the morning after six hours of steady contractions in the middle of the night that came every thirty minutes. She helped me drink me coconut water, administering Rescue Remedy tried to get me to eat snacks, controlled the TENS machine and listened to me moan on the bathroom floor as I leaned on my birth ball, and even took a nap in my bed. No matter where I was in my labor, Rosy was there for me. She was the living embodiment of patience, love and understanding. I will forever be in awe of Rosy’s patience and dedication.
When it was time to call the midwives Rosy told me Mason would not be coming but Hannah, who I had met only once, would be coming alongside Morgan, the student midwife who had been at many of my prenatal visits. Cynthia, whom I had not met yet, would also be coming. I was nervous but tried to remain focused on what was important: breathing, moving, trying to eat and stay hydrated, and getting through each intense surge. I needed their support to guide me along this difficult journey while maintaining a safe and comfortable birthing environment and could not stop to get hung up on any distractions.
When Hannah and Morgan arrived they checked my vitals and the baby’s heart beat and provided Rosy with some support. While doing their incredible work, they were able to maintain my space, allow me to do things at my own pace, all the while keeping things safe and quiet. They held the space, supporting me without fear and honored my original sentiment: my home, my natural environment, is where I feel the most secure and relaxed, it’s where I wanted to welcome my daughter into this world and spend our first moments together as a family.
There was a moment when my blood pressure went up and I was close to transferring to the hospital. I did not with any fiber in my body want to get into the car. I tried breathing lower, slower and deeper. Nothing seemed to work. I had been throwing up and was feeling weak. Cynthia, bless her, had the inclination to give me an IV with fluids and a homeopathic remedy that brought me back down into myself. She was like an anchor. When I was floating off in a direction where I felt I couldn’t grasp hold of anything, she brought me back to my body. Alongside her was Hannah, who was a gentle and guiding force with hands that soothed and massaged my aching back and hips. Her voice was gentle and her gaze unwavering. Morgan was calm and confident in utilizing the techniques she had learned as a student midwife. She was fearless and present the whole time. And Rosy was my rock, feeding, massaging and caring for me on deep emotional, physical and mental levels. They each fulfilled their own unique roles. When I had been pushing for a while and was getting tired but felt little progress, it was Cynthia who offered to provide me with support and see what was going on. She was able to gently push back a small piece of tissue with her hand that was preventing baby’s head from dropping down and once baby was past that point she was ready to come out. I envisioned myself a rhino, fierce and running in the desert, unwilling to stop at anything. I pushed and baby girl was born at 9:38 pm–fourteen hours after I had called Rosy to the house! She weighed 8 pounds, 7 ounces.
I realize now I was expecting some kind of a break after the baby was born, but the journey had just begun! They weighed her and checked her vitals and helped me nurse for the first time. We ate roasted sweet potatoes and I was stitched up for a minor tear. Rosy and Cynthia were able to go home and we wound down into our bed. After everyone left we fell into our first sleep together as a family. Baby girl slept on my chest for the first 4 hours after birth, and her daddy’s for the next 4 hours. It was bliss, exhaustion, beautiful heart-opening rest.
The next morning Hannah, Rosy and Morgan came over for our first postpartum visit. One of the best parts of midwifery care for me was the postpartum care. I loved not having to leave the house to get the best care. They weighed baby again and checked all her vitals, they checked me and made sure I was healing well. They returned to our home many times in the first weeks after baby was born to check on us. The support I received from them in the weeks after giving birth was amazing. They helped me with nursing, making sure baby had a good latch and was gaining weight, and made sure I was getting enough rest, eating enough and healing properly. They answered any questions I had–no matter how silly they seemed to me– and made themselves available by phone, email and text. In the months that followed we had visits in their office. They’d come over just to visit us and have lunch. Having that type of support was so important during that transitional time of balancing life as a new mom, caring for myself and our little one.
Giving birth the way I envisioned and accepting the ups, down and unpredictability of labor empowered me. Being able to choose the type of care I wanted and making decisions for my health gave me the confidence and courage I needed to become a mother. Giving birth means following through. It requires moving forward into the unknown with bravery, love and acceptance–in yourself, your baby, your body and your birth team.
I am forever grateful for the care and connection these amazing women offered me along the way. Thank you to: Maria Iorillo, Rosy Mulligan, Mason Cornelius, Hannah Weiss, Morgan West & Cynthia Banks. All my love!!! ❤️❤️❤️