(Editor’s Note: I wrote this the day after Gregan was born, and his first birthday seemed like a good day to share with the world. Plus, I procrastinate a lot. Happy birthday, my son! Not a day goes by I do not in some way think of this amazing experience.)
After weeks of prodromal labor and false alarms, I was not expecting to text the midwife at 6:30 am and deliver a baby less than two hours later. But that was how we began a whirlwind experience that culminated in the HBA2C (that’s “home birth after two cesareans”) of our beautiful son. Now looking back, I can see everything happened exactly the way it was supposed to.
The night before, we had dinner with some close friends. As we wrapped up the evening around 9:30 PM, I started to notice regular contractions, about 6-8 minutes apart. This had been happening off and on for weeks, so I tried to just ignore them and not get my hopes up yet again.
They kept coming all night, and finally got to the point where they were keeping me awake, more out of annoyance than pain. I tried to avoid waking my husband up and continued to attempt to ignore them. Around 4 AM, I started to time the contractions, just out of curiosity. They were no more than six minutes apart, about a minute long, and not very intense.
By 5 AM, they were closer to five minutes apart. I really didn’t want to have a baby that day, since my daughters were supposed to dance in a competition the next morning. My midwife I had been seeing for the whole pregnancy was also out of town that day. So I decided to get in the bath. That would slow things down for sure, right?
The bath had the opposite effect I had hoped. By 6 AM contractions were 4-5 minutes apart, max. By 6:30 they were coming every 3-5 minutes. They still weren’t super intense – I was able to clean up the house and move around – but I figured I’d give the midwife a head’s up, just in case.
I texted to fill her in on what was going on. To my dismay, she said she would get on the road right away. I was convinced it was going to be a false alarm and that I was just burdening her, but was also glad she was being on the safe side. At 7:25, while feverishly sweeping the floor to prepare for her arrival, I got a text saying “Door is locked.” I went to the door and welcomed her in. “Let’s go listen to the baby!” she said.
Baby sounded great, so she asked if she could check my cervix, to which I said yes. “Do you want to know your dilation?” she asked. Part of me didn’t, because I didn’t want to be discouraged. I decided I would be happy with 3 or 4cm and said yes.
“You’re at nine centimeters,” she said. I was in total shock and probably made her repeat that a few times.
She told me to go sit backwards on the toilet and hug a pillow through three contractions. She also told me she suspected the baby could be breech, although she couldn’t be completely certain since my waters were still intact.
I thought about this while on the toilet. I had two c-sections in 2008 and 2011 due to breech. During my first pregnancy I had been hoping for a natural water birth, but my daughter decided to make her debut with one foot dangling, so we had an emergency cesarean. The midwives had called her a “stargazer” because her neck was also completely extended. Two and a half years later, my second child was born via scheduled c-section due to breech. So I knew another breech baby was a possibility, but I certainly hadn’t planned on it.
Our third child, born in 2013, was a well-behaved vertex baby. He was born via unmedicated hospital VBA2C. After his birth, my husband and I had a great desire to try to birth at home. We made the final decision late in our fourth pregnancy – at 30 weeks! – and transferred care to a midwife who was highly recommended by many of my friends.
We were so happy with our decision, but the one big question in my mind was the breech question. I thought about it and read about it – a lot. We discussed the risks with our midwife and how a breech home birth would differ from the usual presentation. We were familiar with the complications that can occur with a breech delivery, and I’m glad we had that knowledge.
A Big Transition
Anyway, back to the toilet. I sat hugging the pillow, and felt an overwhelming urge to vomit, so I stood up, continuing to lean over the toilet and hug the pillow. After two more contractions I went to stand over the bed. My midwife had just finished getting the bed ready (I had made no preparations aside from sweeping the floor, because I was convinced it was a false alarm). Around 7:50 I started to make my way into bed, only after sending my colleagues a message that I wouldn’t be into work because today “could be baby day.”
I climbed into bed and lay on my left side for a few contractions with pillows between my knees – the same way I had been sleeping for the last four weeks in an effort to ward off the breech. I focused on breathing through the contractions, and during one powerful one I felt my water break. It felt completely different than it had during my first VBA2C. With my third child, who had been head down, it felt like an elevator had rapidly dropped down and broken through my pelvis. This time was like a gentle little pop – just like a newborn baby’s foot when they do those spastic little kicks.
Turns out, that’s exactly what it was.
When my midwife told me the baby’s feet were coming, my first reaction was mild panic. This was exactly why I had had c-sections to begin with. Words like “fetal head entrapment” came to my mind. But I knew deep down I was too far along to transfer to the hospital. And honestly, so far everything had been going beautifully. So I tried to pray and breathe and continue on as if I didn’t even know about presenting feet or butts or heads.
But then the fear really kicked in when I heard my midwife say the cord was down. There was that other scary phrase I had read about during my pregnancy – “cord prolapse.” The cord had prolapsed by six inches. Galyn told my husband to call 9-11 and get an ambulance on the way. This would not be a “hands off the breech” birth, she told me. Things were not going the way I had imagined.
The Gift of Fear
In that moment, fear was my best friend. It wasn’t the kind of fear that stops you in your tracks. It was a deeply moving, maternal fear. I was afraid I might not be able to hold a breathing baby unless things moved quickly. A sense of primal desperation came over my whole body. Now I can see my body just knew I had to get the baby out as fast as possible. Every effort to stall the pushing and wait for the ambulance made my body scream at me to just let it happen.
The ambulance was on its way, but it became clear that baby was not waiting. Every time Galyn told me to pant, I remember screaming, “NO I HAVE TO PUSH NOWWWW!!” (Sorry Galyn, I still feel so bad about that!) She told me to flip onto my back, and my son’s little body was born in one push. When I saw his body I was shocked, because I didn’t even realize anything had come out! I will never forget the sight of his feet and torso laying between my legs, with those little spastic kicks that I still love to watch.
I heard her voice again. “We are going to move onto hands and knees, and you’re going to have to push this baby’s head out now.” I could have never imagined moving from on my back to upright while in the pushing stage, but with her help it happened. My son’s head came out in one push, and I turned around to see a beautiful baby boy on my bed.
It took him a while to breathe – I don’t know how long – and the midwife gave him mouth to mouth and gently compressed his chest. Then she asked if I wanted to give him mouth to mouth. I will never forget the feeling of his breath in my mouth and the sight of his eyes opening and chest moving so slightly. I don’t know how long it took – it seemed like forever. And I won’t lie – my husband and I were truly terrified.
His Apgar was 6 at 1 minute and 9 at 5 minutes. We had a beautiful, perfectly healthy baby boy. He nursed like a champ – and still does – and honestly, if you factor out those three or four really scary minutes, his birth was relatively painless.
The Gift of Birth
At one point, just after my son was delivered, I remember my midwife grabbing me, looking in my eyes, and telling me our son was not going to die. But still, looking back I am tempted to ask, “What if?” What if we had known he was breech? What if we hadn’t switched to the midwife and had just scheduled a cesarean?
Birth is always full of those hypotheticals. But in the end, what matters is that despite the fact we had everything against us – VBA2C, footling breech, cord prolapse –we have a perfect baby boy. Not to mention, it was my easiest birth and recovery yet.
I have never felt God’s presence the way I did both in the fear and subsequent joy and gratitude we experienced during our son’s birth – and really, the entire time I was pregnant with him. I am so amazed at the strength of everyone present at his birth, including our incredible midwife Galyn, who barely even knew us and delivered our son by herself in these extreme circumstances (her assistant arrived shortly after he was born). I am so grateful to my amazing midwife Jennifer Kelleher, who was out of town that day, who encouraged us to trust our intuition and desire to give home birth a chance. I am in awe of my husband, who acted so quickly and supported me with his calm and strong presence the entire time. I am amazed at my body’s strength and its ability to do exactly what it needed to do in a frightening situation. And I am absolutely in love with this miraculous little being named Gregan Wallace.
More than anything, I am humbled by the power of God and the grace He gives us to see and trust His will in all things – even when the circumstances are scary and confusing. I am so thankful to Him for using Gregan’s birth to show me His hand in all things.