Around 6pm on New Years Day, I received a text from Becky that things were feeling a bit off, and while she wasn't having constant or consistent contractions, there was something going on. I suggested that she get some rest, in case tonight was the night. Anecdotally, most second time mothers, tend to go into labor, after their first children have fallen asleep. I had a gut feeling that I would be seeing her later in the evening.
Becky is a strong and confident woman, who also happens to be as sweet as pie. That came through at our very first meeting, at a Speed Date the Doula event. During our chat she told me that she had managed her last labor mostly by herself, before calling in her doula and homebirth midwife team. She was so close to the end when she made the call, that her doula missed the birth of her first son. She expressed mostly a positive experience with the birth itself, during our consultation, but discussed with me some traumatizing things that happened postpartum. While she hired me to be her birth doula, I do tend to "stay around" during the postpartum period as well, and a friend of hers, whom had used me recently, mentioned that to her. (I feel as though we truly lack as a country in the way that we take care of those in the 4th trimester. All of the focus is on the labor and birth, and then we send people off to do it all on their own. I remember it as being one of my most vulnerable and isolating times as a new mother. It drives me to remain supportive during the postpartum period. I'll leave that for another blog though!)
I texted her at around 10pm when I was leaving a friends house. I had brought all of my things and didn't want to return home first, if she needed me. I could tell she was hesitant to say "this is it", so I suggested just coming over to see her for a bit. She thought it was a good idea as well.
When I arrived to her home at 11pm, she was resting (YES!!! Not everyone listens to that suggestion!). I could tell by her face though, that she was in labor, even if she was unsure. I suggested walking a bit, to see if we could pull her contractions closer together. Now I would normally suggest a change of scenery and head outside, but tonight that wouldn't be happening. It was cold! Her contractions were
about 8 minutes apart. Once she started circling her kitchen island (this became her "thing" for a couple of hours) they intensified and quickly became 4-5 minutes apart. Her midwife lives about an hour away. It was 11:30pm, and I suggested that Becky call her and have her start to head our way. Less than 15 minutes later, the contractions had intensified, and Becky was no longer able to speak through them. I said something to the effect of, "Today will be your babies birthday!" as the clock changed past midnight, and Becky said she still wasn't sure this was "it". It's amazing how we still doubt ourselves!
One of my favorite things about Becky and Mark, is how playful they are with eachother. They have fantastic sweet demeanors, accompanied by great senses of humor. Becky after the strongest surge yet said, "Why are we doing this parenting thing? We could be traveling the world. We could be in some exotic place having local cuisine. We don't want to have this baby." I started cracking up. This was wildy relatable to feelings that I personally had during my labors.
It's 12:40am and Becky's midwife arrives and listens to the baby. "Rebecca, your baby sounds great!"
I debated wether or not this story would include everything that happened in the early morning hours of this birth. While I often tell clients birth stories from my point of view, the focus is usually soley on the birthing person (AS IT SHOULD BE!). In all of the births I have attended, it's pretty rare that I have to take a protective stance over a client. I do everything I can, to help them pick the best provider for them, prior to ever having labor begin. This time was going to be different though.
I was positioned at the island counter. Becky, Mark and I, had been chatting during the breaks in contractions, while Becky continued to circle. The feeling was light and we were laughing and sharing stories about our childhoods. The midwife, also now positioned herself at the counter, perpendicular to my seat. It put her in the path that Becky had been traveling for hours. It made it so that when Becky passed behind her, she had to lift her belly up and over another counter top. I mentioned this to the midwife, and suggested she scoot in, to which she replied "Oh she's fine."
Becky had expressed concern to me over the last few months about having this particular midwife in her home. The practice had other midwives and she was hopeful that another one would be on call for her birth. Becky isn't the only woman who plays this game of chance. As a matter of fact, this happens with the majority of my clients, homebirth or hospital. There's often someone in a group practice that isn't liked by a client. I could see (feel) that her arrival had changed everything.
I suggested Becky lay down for a bit in the living room. The Christmas tree was lit and it felt warm and calming in that space. As she tried to lay down, another contraction began. As many people who have labored can tell you, laying down during a contraction isn't very comfortable, and Becky was back on her feet. The midwife entered the space at 1:16am. She stood directly in Becky's path and began to speak to her in a very firm tone. Almost in a way some parents would speak to a toddler. This interaction was over a box of hibiclens the midwife found on the table. Some women who have tested positive for group b strep, opt to wash with this prior to birth, to kill all of the bacteria on their body. This particular midwife group used to reccomend this to their clients who tested positive, in lieu of receiving an antibiotic drip every 4 hours. (Please note, any parent, can also decide to do none of these things, and just monitor the baby for signs of infection, post birth)
The midwife repeatedly asked Becky about her plan for the hibiclens. Explaining that she couldn't reccomend she use this product, and started each question with a firm "Rebecca".
At this point the midwife was almost shouting. I was a bit in shock to be honest. I knew that the midwife was trying to convey that if Becky wanted to use this product, now was the time. However, to a woman who is in active labor, it was nothing but a confrontation. Eventually, the midwife exited, when Becky told her she wasn't going to use it. Becky was trembling. She turned and looked at me with this face of shock and anger. Becky didn't have a contraction for 17 minutes.
When our bodies sense danger, it can stop labor, until it feels safe again. I knew that if she were going to have this baby at home, I would have to protect her and put in her bubble of sorts. I suggested we go down to her bedroom, and change her position. Becky got on all fours over a birth ball and within a few minutes, her contractions were back in a pattern.
There were a few other things that happened during this time in the bedroom and I won't mention them all, but some are important to understand the dynamic. The midwife kept popping in and out and when she did, I noticed the pattern of contractions change again. I started timing them on an app, just for my own personal notes. I couldn't believe what an impact her presence was making. The midwife then came in and plopped herself on the bed. At one point Becky asked her a question, and the midwife didn't reply or acknowledge being spoken to. She asked it again and nothing. The midwife was on her phone, so I answered the question. (Please note, I pick up my phone at births too. Birth workers often have a crazy amount of things going on, but you have to be present enough with the client you're with, to know when they are talking to you.)
At another point, Becky asked her husband to go get her a different drink. As he got up, the midwife, said, "Rebecca that's what you hired Melissa for, she can get it. Mark doesn't have to do anything, but support you. I'm hungry too." I went and quickly grabbed Becky some tea. (I wasn't grabbing a midwife a sandwich) When I came back in, I noticed the midwife was playing candy crush.
A few minutes later the midwife stepped out to call the secondary midwife. Becky said to me, "I don't want you to leave me. When I ask Mark to get things, it's because I want Mark to get it." I felt bad that she waited until the midwife left, to express that to me. I hated that she didn't feel comfortable voicing her wants. Afterall, most people chose midwifery care, hoping to be more respected than with an OB practice.
I told Becky I wouldn't leave again, unless she asked me to. We talked a bit about staying focused. Her birth really started chugging along again. It was just the three of us in the room, and I could tell that transition was near. I suggested that Becky get in the tub for a bit of relief.
Her contractions were still very strong, but I could see that she was getting more rest in between. Even a little bit of dozing on and off. Her husband went to check on their other son, and Becky asked me to grab her some more water. I walked out to the kitchen where the midwife and now the secondary midwife were chatting. dThe midwife said "How is everything going in there?" and I replied "fine". If anyone else had asked, I probably would have told them to come and see her. She was making audible low moans at this point and occassionally involuntarily pushing. I knew we weren't close enough though to need her, so I just went back and continued to support Becky myself.
When I walked back in I said, "How are you feeling?" and Becky replied, "like a sea lion being rehabbed". We both had a good chuckle. Everyone must have heard us, because they came filing in. At this point the midwife began to question where the tub thermometer was. She was searching for it in a panic. She began demanding everyone look for it, including badgering Becky about it's where abouts. I just kept reiterating that Mark could find it. He was searching but not having any luck. This went on for quite some time. Becky was once again upset. Everyone left and again I worked with Becky to get her calm and focused.
At 3:44am Becky's water broke. At this point the midwife was present and Becky started pushing. Mark was poolside and Becky whispered, "get in". Without an ounce of hesitation, Mark hoped right in. As outsiders we don't always get to see what makes someones relationship click. During birth though, I often get to see these moments between partners that is so strong it's tangible. He loves her deeply and I could feel it.
At 3:57am Becky really began to push. Mark was holding up the top half of her body as she sunk down with every surge. I encouraged her and tried to keep them both as cool as I could with all of the adrenaline (and heat!) in the space.
I could tell that Becky was feeling discouraged. The pushing phase with her first labor had gone very quickly. She was tired and questioning herself. I kept encouraging her.
Then the midwife said, in a condescending tone, "Do you feel like you're pushing?". At 4:10am Becky looked at me and said help me. I started to give some pushing tips and the midwife waved her hand in my face as to shush me. Most homebirth midwives are pretty hands off, and don't do the same counting and pushing that hospitals do. However, when someone asks for help, you give it. The next contraction I didn't let her dismiss me. I suggested that Becky roll over onto her back, since we had been pushing in this position for quite some time. I wondered if the baby was OP or sunnyside up. I instructed her how to fill her lungs and bare down to give nice, big, strong, pushes.
Becky arched her back, and two pushes later, we met their baby at 4:24am. "He's big and beautiful!"
I was then asked by the midwife to make Becky something to eat. I checked to see if that was ok, and Becky said yes. I left for about 15 minutes, and when I came back with 2 peanut butter sandwiches, and some other treats, it was just being discoverd that the big beautiful he, was indeed a SHE! They had decided at that point to call her, Tess.
Becky was now in bed and asked me how to start nursing baby Tess. The midwife said, "Are you having her nurse? That baby shouldn't nurse yet, she needs to clear some of that stuff out." I was baffled. Baby was breathing fine and often nursing can help to make them a bit unstuffy and swallow anything that's coming back up. The second midwife agreed with me and chimed in and said, "No, you can nurse now."
The midwife was writing her notes and talking a bit outloud. She said, "baby was OA". This wasn't true. Baby was OP when she was delivered. Often times, mothers need to be on their backs and arched in order to get them out. It also can slow labor down a bit, and extend the pushing phase. It's not just these facts though that make me know baby wasn't OA, I saw it with my own eyes, and also took pictures of it.
I came back the next day to visit with Becky. Instead of discussing what an amazing birth she had, afterall she had an unmedicated homebirth in under 5 hours (!!!), we spent the next 2 hours discussing her poor midwifery care. Her power kept being taken away and Becky at one point said, "Right before you told me how to push, I was going to tell everyone I was done and I wanted to go to the hospital now. I couldn't take how she was talking to me. Did I feel like I was pushing? Yes I was pushing! She was treating you terribly too. I don't know how you manged her so well and then she didn't want me to nurse my baby. Melissa, the worst part of all was that she kept calling me REBECCA. My name is Becky! That's how you know someone doesn't know who you are and they aren't paying attention. She didn't respect me or anyone in this house."
The one thing that you should feel, if nothing else, during this magical feat called birth, is respected and for that, I felt truly heartbroken for Becky.
I'm sharing Becky's story with permission. I did write a version where I never mentioned the midwife, but Becky asked me not to "sugar coat" the story. She wanted others to understand how important it is to trust your provider, and that if even just a small piece of you is questioning them, it's never to late to switch. You should like everyone that might be present during your labor and your babies arrival earthside. I couldn't agree more.
Becky, Mark, Alton & Tess thank you so much for letting me be a part of your story. It was an honor.