This blog post was previously published in Dec 4, 2018. It has been updated to include the audio and video versions.
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PLEASE NOTE: The below post contains graphic photographs and some nudity. You've been warned! :) As this was a natural birth, it is natural that I include some unedited documentation of what happened. Also, if you'd like to be the first to know when my next book, The Unassisted Birth Manual, is available in the next month or two, please visit this page and add your info. Enjoy our story! xo Andrea
Today I'd like to share my most recent birth story with you. Baby #5.
Twyla Bentley was born on November 20, 2018 at 5:51am in an unassisted birth, waterbirth, freebirth...many names for what happened, but, basically:
I birthed her in our bathtub with no outside assistance or interference, whatsoever.
No midwife. No OB. No doula. Just me, my husband, and our baby.
Let's take this in 3 parts...like a 3 Act Play.
Act 1: The Midwife Quit
Rewind to about two days before my due date. November 13, 2018.
My midwife and I had an appointment scheduled for 1:15pm. I didn't want to make this appointment, mind you, but she insisted.
You may be wondering...Why did you hire a midwife if you wanted an unassisted birth?
Well, good question.
You see, I've attempted an unassisted birth four times over 5 births. Each experience has been unique and has taught me a lot, and all of them have led up to my decision about this birth.
After all that I've experienced over the last 8 years of having babies, I decided that this time around I'd prefer to have someone else in the house in case I had a question - to which an answer could save me from illogically choosing to go to the hospital (I've done that twice).
I also wanted someone else to do my prenatal care.
(You may remember that my husband and I separated for a couple months earlier this year. It's been rough. So, wanting a little more support felt like a good decision back in the Summer when I most needed it.)
So, I was referred to "Jane" (we'll call her) because she is unlicensed and thus would absolutely, I was assured, provide an undisturbed birthing experience.
(Undisturbed would mean that she would not intervene unless asked. Because...even midwives can intervene and cause things to go awry, even with the best intentions.)
Things were not going exactly as planned.
Let me briefly summarize the pathway to our ultimate falling-out:
- I told her I was taking the Spinning Babies online class and she immediately questioned the validity of the program, who taught it, etc....despite having handed me a printed handout FROM the spinningbabies.com website that SAME DAY. She grilled me about whether I should be taking the SB classes and who was the teacher and what was I doing. Not cool. (Perhaps she was turned off by my strong streak of self-sufficiency and resourcefulness...I have, after all, fully researched and written the almost-complete-draft of a book on Unassisted Birth.)
- I told her I didn't want to purchase gauze for my birth kit supplies. She insisted they were for her to wipe my butt in the middle of labor if needed, and for wiping the snot out of my new baby's nasal passages. I told her I didn't believe babies needed wiped because when they are born, they are face-down and the passages naturally drain. I also stated that gauze is a medical supply and that Whapio (my teacher) advised that we consider, deeply, which supplies we purchase for our birth, and how each item reflects our expectations of the type of birth we'd like to have. We'll talk more about Whapio in point 3.
- She was unprofessional about others in the birth space. So, yeah, Whapio. Probably one of my favorite people, ever. A dear friend. Taught my doula program (when I was prepping for baby #2, hoping for a UC that time around). Advised me on the Unassisted Birth Manual I've written and am preparing for publication. Whapio teaches midwives, doulas, and unassisted birth in her school, The Matrona. My midwife had MAJOR issues with Whapio, claiming that Whapio puts ideas into women's minds that mislead them to believe they'll have a certain type of idealized birth. She actually compared Whapio to the OBs at the hospital! And she said Whapio hates the medical model. We had a pretty big verbal brawl about this, back in October, and I never really did recover from the vast unprofessionalism this midwife showed - so disrespectful of Whapio. She even said "Whapio doesn't even attend births." To which I said, "Yes, she's attended like 800." The midwife said "No, she's only attended about 300 births. She hardly has any experience." Wow. 300 is a lot in my book, and the words Whapio speaks? They are full of 100% truth, positivity, science, and fact. Moving on....
- She pushed me to schedule an appointment with her when I told her I'd like to lay low and see if baby comes next week, and call her when I'm in labor (vs. having another appointment...because I was FINE). She said something to the effect that she needed to check in with how I was doing so she could be present with me at the birth. The problem was that her desires completely excluded what I wanted, as her client, and disregarded what I intuited the baby and I needed (privacy). I had hired her to be there, in the other room, as David and I had our baby in the other room, and to be there for the postpartum clean up and care for the following days and weeks. I did not hire her to dictate my care. This was totally alarming.
- She passive-aggressively cancelled our appointment two days before my due date...then quit completely via text. The midwife apparently had been trying to call and text me to confirm the appointment we'd set in our calendars for 1:15pm that day. I do not keep my phone on during the precious 3 hours of work I give myself each morning. It helps me stay focused. I finally saw her text at 12:18pm that said she wanted to reschedule since she hadn't heard from me. Mind you, she insisted on that appointment in the first place, against my will. Now I'd been expecting it and I prepared for it and moved my life around for it and she's...cancelling? I texted her and said I'd see her there, that we'd already set it in the calendar and confirmed. She wrote back to call her, that she felt very uncomfortable. I told her the family and I have shifted plans and I'd call her later that evening. She proceeded to blow up my phone by texting incessantly, repeating how uncomfortable she felt and hinting at quitting on me, and I simply replied we'd speak on the phone later on, no worries. But, ultimately - OVER TEXT - she said she could no longer work with me. Instead of being patient and doing a phone call later on (in which I can assure you I was going to fire her, anyway), she "broke up with me over text." Seriously. Two days before my date. I didn't tell a soul because I didn't want to worry anyone enough to send me scary birth vibes. I almost wrote my email list here at Go Diaper Free because I knew you all would understand...but I didn't. It took me several days to process the anger, resentment, and outright betrayal I felt from this woman.
So, that's all about the midwife and the terribly uncomfortable circumstances that caused us to part ways.
Yes, I still am a little upset about what happened. The archetypal betrayal of the feminine. You know.
It's all good.
At 12:32pm that day, after getting her first passive-aggressive texts about cancelling our appointment, I texted Whapio who immediately agreed to be "on call" for my birth for any questions I might have.
Whapio. On speed dial.
This was all turning around nicely.
Act 2: Kicking Everyone Out
On the day the midwife quit, I sent our au pair (who'd only been with us a month so far) to Charlotte two hours away to stay with my mother, so that we could have privacy in our home and I could make a nest for baby to arrive.
As I processed this freaking terrible situation with the midwife...I began to realize that what Twyla wanted was a truly 100% unassisted birth.
I began to read my entire book manuscript, beginning to end, and prepare myself mentally, physically, and emotionally for a true UC.
(Talk about being forced by the Universe to do what you were intended to do, all along!)
This new book? The Unassisted Birth Manual. I started writing it when I was pregnant with Isadora 5 years ago - because nowhere could I find a concise guide to the in's and out's of unassisted birth.
It needs some final editing, but it has been reviewed by a teaching midwife, informed heavily by Whapio, Grantly Dick-Read, and Michel Odent...and it's full of awesome preparatory info.
Through reading my own book manuscript over the next few days, I prepared to assist myself in having this baby.
Because the Universe had left me no other choice.
For the next few days I continued to go to prenatal yoga.
My back had been going out for several weeks (so bad that I could hardly walk when I stood up from sitting or laying down) and I knew that baby wouldn't come until it had been repaired.
Every day I came to yoga, and every day I felt embarrassed to be there.
My last 3 babies had come 2 weeks early. Why was Twyla taking so long?
I tried to schedule another Trigger Point Massage appointment in town. This had also been helping my back in a big way...and now I was ready for induction points to be pressed!
I couldn't schedule on our normal Thursday for some reason. So, I scheduled with her two days later, a Saturday...and early that morning she texted that she was sick and couldn't see me.
That morning, feeling disappointed about no induction points, and with no signs of imminent labor, I sent my 3 kiddos to Grandma's house in Charlotte, to stay there until baby comes.
Thanksgiving was in 5 days. Would Twyla come in time for me to get my kiddos back?
We were down to one kid...my 8 year old. Monday came around and we took him to school to go to his father's house for the week.
That night, David (my hubs) asked me what I wanted for breakfast the next morning, because we finally had no kids to take care of, and we can sleep in!
I told him that Twyla is going to come at 4am precisely for that reason.
Act 3: The Most Amazing Thing...Catching My Own Baby
At 4am Tuesday, the very next morning, I began to have low belly menstrual-like cramps. I was laying down in bed, so I began the lap timer in my phone.
70 seconds long, 5 minutes in between.
Then upwards of 90 seconds long, 2 minutes in between.
Within 30 minutes labor had begun full-on, no doubt in my mind.
NOTE: There are no pictures in this section of my birth story. Undisturbed birth, in my definition, excludes cameras and video. :)
When I got up, the contractions continued (a sure-fire sign that labor has begun is when you change positions and the rhythm of the contractions does not change). The rhythms continued to increase in intensity and decrease as far as time-between-contractions goes.
With every contraction, I did as my birth book advised - I focused on relaxing my yoni and my mouth, breathing deeply, and diffusing my focus away from the contraction itself. I didn't hyperfocus on the contraction, but focused on other things, and definitely made sure to relax.
Focused relaxation. Diffuse awareness of the tightening.
I knew what was happening with each sensation...every tightening meant that my cervix was dilating, and I was in full support of that happening quickly.
I brought Twyla's new baby blanket to the laundry room and began a load so it would be cleaned and ready by the time she arrived. I doubled over in front of the washing machine mid-contraction, caught my breath, and continued preparing.
I walked around the house rapidly...quickly...calmly...and found sitting on my yoga bolster to feel really good.
But very soon, no sitting would suffice. To the toilet. Sitting during a contraction felt good only there.
"Run a bath." I said to hubs.
He complied while I had a major contraction on the rug on our bathroom floor.
The thought ran through my head:
So, this is my midwife.
And I almost started to laugh.
Now, I had overcome several blocks over the past week after my midwife quit. While reading up on unassisted birth inside my book draft, I realized that seeking comfort would not impede the progress of the labor. It would simply help me feel more comfort!
So, I popped into that warm bath not expecting it to retard my progress, but instead expecting to feel comfort and release while my body continued to do its work of pushing my baby out.
It felt great to have the water rushing over my shoulders as each contraction came more and more strongly.
For a moment, I fantasized about going to the hospital and how that was such an easy way out, always an option...but then quickly remembered what that would look like.
Let me walk you thru my 4 other births right quick:
My first birth was an over-managed midwife-driven homebirth. Long, painful, not wholly fulfilling.
My second birth? Well, I went to the hospital because I didn't know I was fully dilated, had no urge to push, and upon arrival I had her within 30 minutes after 30 minutes of annoying nurse-coaching-yells to get her out as if it were an emergency (they even pulled her head). I then had to demand we be released within 12 hours - like a jail, it was.
My third was an unassisted birth with a friend in the hallway to whom I could shout a question or two. Freaking amazing Wonder Woman birth.
My fourth was same situation as my second...but it was the bag of waters impeding full dilation. Again, with some patience and knowledge, I could have had him at home too. 30 minutes after arriving at the hospital, with a ton of worried-push-chants, and them pulling on his head, he was born. Like jail, very hard to get them to release us, but we left at 12 hours.
So, yeah...the fleeting thought of a hospital run?
That didn't last long.
The truth, Andrea: It will take way longer and it will hurt way more at the hospital...and why would you want the company of a bunch of strangers, nurses, doctors...when you could just stay here and trust your body and your baby?
That ridiculous thought left my brain just about as quickly as it had entered.
Besides, I'd told hubs that IF I SAID I wanted to go to the hospital during labor, to INSTEAD encourage me and tell me that I'm doing it, I'm doing fine, and to just plain ignore my request.
(We went over the 4 red flags of birth last week...he knew the drill...and the diff between what is a true emergency and what is just me acting on behalf of hormones.)
So I didn't say a word about the hospital thought.
I realized the contractions were getting incredibly uncomfortable and occurring much more often and much more intensely.
My thoughts? Very clearly I heard:
Do not be afraid. This is the way through. It is a great sign that they are harder and faster and more intense. That means my baby will be here soon! There is no way around this. Only through.
As I labored in the tub, warm water flowing over me, my husband got a cold rag and put it on my back. During every contraction I braced myself in the tub and relaxed my yoni and mouth, the rest of me fully stabilized and pushing with all my might.
It wasn't painful...but it was intense and other-worldly.
Then I was fast asleep with my head on the edge of the tub...being given the gift of my second wind...and I knew that I was fully dilated.
Hubs whispered "Grantly Dick-Read is with you. They're all with you. You're doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing."
I reached inside and felt the bag of waters. I confirmed my thought - it felt as thought I was fully dilated (yesterday I felt the bag, dilated a few centimeters only, and my cervix. Today...no cervix to be felt at all).
I questioned myself for a moment...maybe I'm not dilated yet?
Then I said with confidence from some unknown source, "No. I am absolutely fully dilated."
David went to YouTube to learn how to pop a bag of waters, just in case. With our last birth, you'll remember, this was our issue.
He came back in because I was yelling. Contractions were back on. I kept my voice low but I was really in it.
My fingers inside, I felt her head inside the bag! I was awwing, and cooing, and ahhing, saying "Hi baby, I can't wait to see you!" - and then a big contraction came and I pushed REALLY hard, causing the bag of waters to break into the tub of water.
I felt her head more clearly now. I focused on how it felt to bring her down the birth canal.
I wasn't afraid. I was lucid. Present. Excited. Focused. Intent.
I was talking to her, hubs said afterward, but I can't remember that part.
I was in a complete daze, yet focused somehow.
Hubs was holding me up when needed, I was bracing, relaxing, focused, yet completely in outer space at the same time.
One contraction...with the urge to push. If I didn't push, it hurt really bad. So I pushed...feeling her head moving down as I did so.
Two or three more of these, seemingly a few minutes apart each (I can't be sure, but I was floating in oblivion at those moments), and Twyla's head was right at the opening to her new world.
"Oh baby, oh baby, come on, come on sweetheart...." is what hubs heard me say.
I felt the biggest contraction of the whole morning and with it the urge to push - and also the intuition to not do it too quickly - and I bared down as I instinctively got up onto one knee inside the bath tub.
My hands on her head, stabilized by my position, I pushed with all my might, with restraint when called, with full abandon when called, and this push must have lasted about 5 minutes, I swear.
From all I've been told, the crowning didn't mean birth was imminent, so I threw that out the window as garbage advice. My body pushed her head out inside that one gigantic contraction.
The bulge in my bottom was really intense, but I couldn't call this head-birthing "painful." It was intense and a mixed bag of restraint and going for it, but not painful.
I then had Twyla's cute little head in my hands.
I felt a cute little ear on the right, and a sweet chubby little cheek on the left, and I whispered to hubs "I have her head in my hands." So quietly.
I began to panic a little. (This must be that last rush of adrenaline?)
Hubs calmed me by saying "You are doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing. You are fine."
I reached my finger in next to her neck for whatever reason (to check her shoulder? No idea.) and then felt the urge to push. I was afraid though (which I knew would create tension, which creates pain) - afraid that this would really hurt - but when I let off and didn't push with the contraction, it HURT!
So, I pushed, another marathon one with restraint and full-on abandon, a mixed bag, and her whole body came out into my hands, under the water.
The next moments are a bit blurred but David remembers that last push as an Opera-like yell, of reaching the top of the mountain and letting out a victory cry almost, and saw me pull her out of the water and lean back into the tub with Twyla on my belly.
I remember pausing, her body in the water, collecting myself, and then somehow laying back in the tub as if I were taking a leisurely soak after a long day of work.
I looked at hubs and said, "We did it!"
He was all smiles (usually is).
We adored her and watched her turn from amphibian into land-lubber and get her breath together.
I looked at him and declared "You have to take a picture of this!"
He grabbed his phone and snapped a few photos and some video and we chatted as we encouraged our baby girl into her first gurgly breaths of life.
I asked David to grab the bulb syringe out of the laundry room because the midwife had left this sense of doubt in my head that babies can't clear passages on their own (I claim that the pause, and the instinctive positions, after birth take care of this by Nature's design)...and when he brought it back I couldn't bring myself to do it properly.
Twyla found her breath within a minute or two, on her own, and began to pink up. Hubs brought a blanket and then asked me what he could do for us now.
This is my doula.
I chuckled to myself.
He got our bed ready with Chucks pads underneath towels and the heater and humidifier both cranking on.
I began to shiver, strongly.
It was the hormones, not the temp, but still. Crazy.
We moved to the bed and she began to nurse.
I began to cramp.
After about 20 or 30 minutes we decided to cut the cord (it had completely stopped pulsing) and the placenta felt ready to come out, too.
David grabbed my book draft and found the picture of where to tie and cut the cord...he'd prepared the strings earlier during labor...and he did a fantastic job of it!
Then I got up to pee and put the bowl in the toilet, placenta popped right out into it.
I noticed that my white bath mat was ruined. It looked like a war zone or a terrible murder scene, I have to say! The bath water, bloodied, and the rug, and the floor. Ah, well. It was beautiful all the same.
Placenta plopped out and we checked it for completeness.
And then we rested.
We told our birth stories to each other.
We "missed" a meconium poop in the blanket.
We figured time of birth was about 5:51am, given the time stamp on the photograph on David's phone.
The entire birth took about an hour.
We weighed little darlin in the sling. 9 pounds of love.
(David turned out to be the best. doula. ever.)
He cleaned everything up and then we began sending photos to our moms and FaceTimed the kiddos so they could see their new sister.
I told my mom to bring them home right away...I wanted them there, now! :)
Then, our gate beeped. The cleaning lady arrived and cleaned our entire house (happy surprise!). The vacuum did wake me from my first little nap, but I appreciated their magical timing, no question!
And that was it.
We've been laying low since then.
3 of the kids came home in a few hours and met their new lil sis:
The Afterward: A Peaceful Postpartum
I called the pediatrician on day 1 and was surprised that the lead doctor advised us to go to the hospital first "because of how the birth happened...at home."
I was appalled. I let them have a piece of my mind. The quickly course-corrected.
Then, they got me a special appointment with Dr. Peggy (our usual doc) 4 days later...which satisfied me because she knows me very well by now.
I measured my uterus' involution (returning to the normal place) per my book...and felt healthy with perfect signs of a good recovery.
On day 2, we captured Twyla's footprints on my new Unassisted Birth Birth Certificate (which will come with my new book) with the little baby-safe inkpad I'd ordered previously.
At the pediatrician 4 days later, Twyla was given a bill of clean health. Although we already figured that...her breath and color and vitality and grip...all great signs of a very healthy baby.
Poop outgo and breastmilk input...all normal. All great signs.
But, I do like to go in and introduce them to the doc and this is the longest we'd waited yet...I am glad we took our time.
We ended up having an unassisted postpartum - which I studied up on in my new book as well - and which felt REALLY, REALLY GOOD.
And that's it, it.
Thank you for hearing my story!
It was the most satisfying birth and I am so grateful for everything that happened (every thing!! even the supposedly bad bits) to make it exactly what it was.
It could not have happened any other way.
Now, I'd love to hear from YOU.
Please leave your COMMENTS and thoughts below, including any birth story sharing of your own. This is a safe space. Please be positive and bring people up...or you will be booted. :o)
I look forward to hearing your thoughts! xx Andrea
PS - If you want to read my forthcoming Unassisted Birth Manual, please sign up for the waitlist here and I'll let you know when it's available (1-2 months from now) - the info in this book can also be applied to any birth, full of biological wisdom and mammalian common sense. <3