A Journey to Home Birth

When I was pregnant with my first in 2009, I had this idea that women who have their babies at home had some exceptional birthing abilities (or just couldn’t get in the car fast enough). Maybe they had really large pelvises, or were skilled in hypno-birthing, or were just uberconfident. I didn’t fit into any of those categories, and thought perhaps the hospital was the best place for your average Betty Birther like me, who felt pain, had no patience for imagining I was on a beach, and yelled a lot during my first birth. I felt like I had no place having my baby at home–and I wasn’t even really sure I wanted to. My birthing mojo had been stolen, and I had to find a way to get it back…

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Serafina’s homebirth, 2/2014

You could say I was a reluctant home birther. I always assumed women who have their babies at home just know that they know that they know. I didn’t. My first birth was in a hospital, and though there was plenty I could grumble about (you want to take my baby for a hearing test at 3am, really?!), I felt comfortable with the decision after considering both a birth center and briefly, a home birth. The idea of a home birth appealed to me on a visceral level – it felt like the most natural thing to do. Yet, I knew plenty of moms, and they all delivered their babies in hospitals, so how could bad could institutionalized birth be?! Plus, my husband and mother, the two most important people in my life, didn’t support it. At all. It was the “What-if-something-goes-wrong” argument. No amount of Ricki Lake could convince either of them otherwise, and it didn’t seem worth the effort. (I won’t spend time here talking about the safety of home birth, but feel free to check out some studies yourself!)

And really, my hospital birth wasn’t all that bad. It was pretty ordinary, and maybe a little boring for the doctor waiting in the wings, in case the midwife needed support. I didn’t get an epidural, wasn’t induced, wasn’t monitored very frequently. One of the nurses even said in a quiet tone, “We love these kinds of births. We hardly ever get to see them and they seem so real!” (Yes, as I am screaming, I mentally note that there is nothing fake about the intensity of a contraction.) After my baby was born, I requested they not cut the cord, not administer eye drops, or a Vitamin K shot, or bathe the baby, or vaccinate…needless to say, my “birth plan” was pored over by everyone who came in the room, just to make sure they got it all right.

I’ll admit – it was tiring to continually say, “Yes, you read that right. No, no Hep B. No, please don’t wash off the vernix.” And although at firstI chuckled, I got tired of seeing the biohazard symbol on my baby’s little plastic box, just because I refused her bath. (The plastic box is a whole different issue.)

Fast forward 3 years, and despite an enormous amount of research, interviews, and meeting homebirthing moms through writing The Other Baby Book, I still wasn’t sure I wanted to go the home birth route during my second pregnancy. I truly supported and encouraged homebirth as an option for pregnant moms, but still had some hard-to-articulate concerns about the pain (was I prepared to handle another birth like my first again??). I knew at that point a home birth was likely going to be a much better overall experience than a hospital birth, but I also knew my husband’s stance, and didn’t look forward to the push back I thought I’d get from the rest of our family. So, I decided to find a new midwife (mine had moved on from the practice), go back to the hospital, and suck up the emotional drain of explaining myself to each new nurse on shift.

But my first appointment with a hospital midwife was disappointing enough to be my last. After waiting an hour (HOUR!), only to talk about testing, and percentiles, and risks for 30 minutes, I had a sour taste in my mouth. The midwife I met with was supposed to be one of the most sympathetic to natural birth, and yet I didn’t get that impression at all. It felt much more like pregnancy was one big “What if?” The last thing I wanted was for someone else to be casting doubts about the next nine months, and about birth in general. I wanted a birth provider who was knowledgable enough to provide excellent care, who shared the same birth philosophy with me – that birth is a natural, normal occurrence. I felt really discouraged after my appointment, and my thoughts kept drifting back to a home birth. I called a friend who recently had her baby at home, and she came right over to talk me through some of my concerns. I’ll never forget her words.

There are risks no matter where you birth. Do you trust God with the outcome of your birth, no matter where it is and what happens?” I nodded, though I pondered those words for the days and months to come. “Then have your baby where you have the most peace, and don’t listen to anyone who tries to convince you otherwise. Even me.” It’s amazing how friends can speak the words we most need to hear, but don’t have courage enough to speak to ourselves.

The more I thought about birthing at home, the more excited I became. I had moved on from just not wanting to be in a hospital, to embracing the idea of being at home. So, I cautiously brought up the idea of a home birth to my husband, and he agreed to meet a few midwives. It helped that by this time, Miriam and another dear friend had both had positive home birth experiences.

We started by meeting a very experienced midwife, who I knew had an answer for every question under the sun. Mark was impressed. I liked her, but wasn’t sure it was the best fit…especially for over $5,000! From there, I dug through a local list serv and got recommendations for other midwives. I called a few, but when I met Sarafina, I knew she’d be the one. She has a presence about her–calming, empowering, and someone I’d be OK with seeing me naked. Seriously. That’s a factor. In other words, I felt totally at ease around her. Sarafina’s partner, Jessica, has this quiet strength, and bonus: they have an amazing student midwife, Kara, who never stopped smiling, and always complemented whatever I was cooking when she came over (way to my heart – love my food)!

The entire experience went beyond my expectations. What stands out though, is the quality of prenatal and postpartum care. I looked forward to every appointment–and not just to hear the baby’s heartbeat, but to have a conversation about what was going on in all aspects of my life. It felt like a very holistic model of care, rather than a fractionated, numbers driven model. They always presented my options, but never once did I feel like there was any agenda. I could chose what testing I wanted, or how to approach certain issues. I didn’t feel pressured, coerced, or belittled for my choices. I felt informed, and encouraged to make my own best decision. Barring some of my physical discomforts, I was at peace with my pregnancy in a way that I wasn’t for my first.

It’s the little things that make a difference too – Sarafina and Jessica came to my house for the third trimester (rather than me driving to their office), and I can’t tell you how fantastic that was. I didn’t have to disturb Anabella, or rush around in traffic, in snow, to make an appointment on time. I could be in my pajamas, or eating breakfast. There are five (!) postpartum visits to boot. I was so surprised to learn that. Sarafina gave me a great hip massage on day 3, Jessica did some breastfeeding troubleshooting, laundry lugging and folding, and general encouragement on day 7, and all along the way, they were available for any questions I’ve had. I’m going to miss our times together. I may just have to have another baby…

What about you? Where did you birth? What was the decision-making process like?

You can read more about my actual birth here, and if you’re in the MA/Boston area, you can find BirthMatters, Jessica and Sarafina’s practice, here. 

Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.

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Serafina’s Home Birth Story

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8 hours into labor, about two hours before delivery

A few weeks before Serafina’s birth, some dear friends came over to pray for us. One of the ladies prayed that I would have a “glorious” birth, and the word really stuck with me. What would that even look like? I’m not one to gush over how beautiful birth is. It’s amazing, for sure, but it’s also hard, and messy, and not something I romanticize over! Still, glorious, is a word I wanted to describe my birth. And looking back, I’d say it does! God showed up and answered so many of the prayers prayed that night, and in the nights to follow, as I dealt with fears, and pains, and hopes….

I didn’t quite realize it in the weeks leading up to birth, but I clearly had this idea of what my home birth would look like–probably from watching too many YouTube videos (“Please, can we watch another “coming out” video, Mama,” said my 3 year old). I was going to labor peacefully for at least a few hours in the birth tub, with candles in the background, and my birth playlist in my earbuds. I’d diffuse certain essential oils, depending on how things were going. I was going to relax this time. My breathing would be better. I’d know when transition was coming, and I’d spend a decent amount of time slowly pushing, unlike my first birth, where AnaBella was out in less than ten minutes.  The placenta would come out easily. My baby and I would hang out in the water for a bit before we moved into the bed. I wouldn’t need stitches.

I only realized those were my expectations when some of those things happened, and some, not so much…

Contractions started around 10am and were pretty intermittent for a few hours. I spent the morning doing crafts with AnaBella (most notably, lying on my back while AnaBella traced my life-sized  silhouette on the hardwood floor…not so f  un during a contraction), and then had a friend over in the afternoon. The whole time, I was charting my contractions through a free app on my phone. I was a bit in denial, as I had a few bouts of false labor in the prior weeks. The contractions were getting closer together though, so after about 4 hours, I texted my midwife, Sarafina. I could still talk through them, and was cheerfully hanging out with our friends.

At 6:30, after about 8 hours of pretty easy contractions, something changed a bit in the intensity. I texted Sarafina again and she asked if I needed them to come over. I still didn’t think so – I figured I had a lot longer to go if I wasn’t in too much pain. She said she’d be over within the hour. By the time Sarafina and Jessica arrived, I was kneeling during each contraction, as I couldn’t stand under the pain. Still, they were fairly short, and about 5 minutes apart. Mark and I were chatting, setting up the tub, preparing my labor drink and hanging out with AnaBella during this time.

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By 7:30, the pain was pretty intense. AnaBella rubbed my back and sang me songs during contractions, while Mark and the midwives tried to get the tub filled. Unfortunately, our hot water tank ran out of hot water, so there was a bucket brigade, trying to get the water level and temperature up. I didn’t feel an urgent need to get in the tub; I was hoping AnaBella would be settled in bed before I jumped in. She finally went to bed at 8:30, and the tub still wasn’t ready. At that point, I said to Kara, the student midwife, that I didn’t think I was dilated at all. She told me how to do a self-check on the toilet, and I reported back to Sarafina that I thought I was totally closed. I figured we all had a long night ahead of us…

During the next contraction after my self-check, I laid on the bed to get a bit of relief from the pain. As I was on the bed, I felt like my body was spontaneously pushing. Sarafina ran into the other room and told everyone to come in, “The baby’s coming!” HUH?! I just went through transition?? My waters hadn’t broken, and I hadn’t had any bloody show. I couldn’t believe it. Plus, it was nothing close to as brutal as my first labor. I remember walking around like a zombie for hours, feeling like I just couldn’t deal with the pain.

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Mark dumped two large lobster pots of boiling water into the tub, and I jumped in. After 11 excrutiating minutes, I was holding my baby. I will admit, while “Jesus, help me!” was the main focus of my attention during that time, the thought crossed my mind briefly that I should just get an epidural if I have another baby. The pain was so severe. Thankfully, it was so short as well. Serafina came out with her hand up by her face, which is why it took a few extra pushes (and likely why I tore a bit). I held her on my chest for awhile in the tub and caught my breath. It took awhile to birth the placenta, which was no fun. Sarafina gave me some Placenta Out while I was in the tub but nothing was happening, so I ended up out of the tub, and had to push out the placenta on my bed awhile later.

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I got to snuggle with my little lady, and AnaBella woke up shortly after. She came in (and stayed up til 3am!!) and got to meet her sister, and touch a real placenta–with gloves on, of course–before Kara prepared me a delicious placenta smoothie, and prepared the rest for encapsulation. AnaBella has been making playdough placentas ever since she read the book Welcome with Love!

Despite not having those hours of peaceful tub labor, (which, really, who needs a longer labor?!) I am thrilled with the way things went. My midwives were awesome. They were encouraging, but not intruding. They supported me, but didn’t stifle me. They also cleaned up beautifully!  The environment was calm and cozy, and…normal. Everyday. Familiar. And yet–Glorious. Although I am glad I was able to have both hospital and home birth experiences, being home blows the hospital out of the water. No one woke me up to try to take my baby to be weighed, take my blood pressure, or scold me for sleeping with my newborn. I didn’t have to get in a car, eat hospital food, or be ridiculed by the pediatrician on rounds for not doing a Vitamin K injection. It truly was a perfect fit for me, and even my husband, who was a bit skeptical, said he would certainly have another home birth if we had more children.

Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.

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Surviving the Stomach Bug During Pregnancy

NOTE: This post is about the stomach bug. I use words like vomit and diarrhea frequently. You’ve been warned!

Aurora Post Pic

Well here’s a post I hadn’t intended to write at 39 weeks and 5 days pregnant! Just six days before my estimated due date, I woke up in the middle of the night, and I thought I was getting ready to go into labor. My body was cleaning itself out. I woke up my  husband to give him a heads up…but about an hour later I realized this was not labor. It was viral gastroenteritis–aka, the stomach bug.

I made preparations for illness prevention this winter by praying for health each day, drinking elderberry syrup each morning, washing my hands almost excessively, eating a clean diet, and diffusing thieves oil throughout my home. But despite my best efforts, I couldn’t predict that a small child in my daughter’s gymnastics class would get sick within a few feet of me. (Thankfully, the little girl was late to class, so she was next to the bleachers where the moms sat, and not on the mat with our girls!) I’m nearly certain that’s where it came from, and it was a good reminder to me that you can’t control life!

Because we had so many friends who were sick, weeks earlier I had talked to my midwives and done research on what happens when a mother has a virus during labor. The vast majority of cases said that our bodies suppress labor until mom is better, and that when in labor, our symptoms often disappear as our bodies put all our energy into birthing the baby. I came across so many interesting stories of women who had respiratory illnesses, broken ankles or bloodied knees, and didn’t even know it while they were in labor. Just hearing this helped me to stay calm. I had a deep sense the baby would not be coming at least until the worst was over.

While this may seem obvious, please do contact your care provider if you get sick. While it’s generally a fast illness, it’s important that they are up to speed on what’s going on, to keep an eye on any issues that may arise.

After about 18 hours I felt better, and 30 hours into the virus, I was out of bed and free of aches and pains. By 48 hours, I had eaten egg pancakes, mashed potatoes, chicken soup and bacon! While I’m certainly not a doctor, I’d like to offer you some strategies I used to feel better fast.

Drinks

I didn’t drink anything for an hour or two after the vomiting stopped. By that time, I was pretty parched, and knew water was not a good solution (despite common practice). If you’ve had several bouts of vomiting, you’ll have lost a good supply of electrolytes, so a rehydration drink is best. You can add some sugar or honey and sea salt to regular water to make a simple drink, but that didn’t really sound appealing to me. I just happen to have lots of coconut water around the house, and it’s been amazing. At first I drank it straight, and then I added a little sea salt, honey, and fresh lemon to it. It tastes delicious, and has really replenished me. I’d caution against commercial electrolyte drinks and flat soda, as they almost always have yucky additives that you don’t want in your body when you’re trying to heal!

I also sipped peppermint, chamomile and ginger tea. The peppermint helps to reduce your fever and soothe your belly, and the chamomile is an anti-spasmodic, helping to reduce stomach cramps. I also had pretty bad nausea on and off for the 12 hours after I got sick, so ginger was a must-have to keep that at bay. Once I moved into the diarrhea phase, I switched to an elder flower and red raspberry leaf tea, both of which are helpful for regulating digestion and improving diarrhea. (Here’s a great list of different herbs and how they can help during cold and flu season.)

While it’s important not to push yourself, dehydration can be dangerous to a mama and her baby, so make drinking a priority! The last thing I wanted was to have to go into the hospital for an IV, so I kept the coconut water, tea, and plain water, (which I actually didn’t touch) next to my bed, each with straws, to make sipping from a reclined position easier. Room temperature or warm drinks are much easier on the belly but if the only way to get it in you is chilled, do what you need to do to amp up your fluids!

Baths

Once I felt well enough to get out of bed (about 24 hours later), I took warm baths with 2 cups of the elder flower and raspberry tea, to help with the diarrhea. If you have a fever but are still up for a bath, make sure it is lukewarm! You can do a lemon foot bath to reduce fever. Just place slices of lemon the bath or a large pot and soak your piggies for about 20 minutes. You can also take a relaxing bath with a bit of peppermint oil to reduce fever.

Food/Supplements

While technically not a food, I have been taking a triple dose of my probiotic to replace the good bacteria in my gut that’s been swept away. I have no affiliation with this company, but I LOVE GutPro. (It seems a bit pricey, but I still have 1/3 of the bottle and it’s been over a year, so it’s actually really economical and recommended by Natasha McBride, founder of the GAPS diet.) It’s unlikely you’ll be eager to eat much in the first few days, but I found it helpful to start with bone broth, homemade applesauce made with just apples and some cinnamon, bananas and fresh pressed juices. I’m steering clear of bottled juices as they have a very high sugar content, which exacerbates diarrhea!

I’m also taking 1 T of elderberry syrup several times a day. Two other options that I have not tried, but seem to work well for others are: Diatomaceous Earth and Activated Charcoal.

Rest

This was a little easier before kids. And nearly impossible at 39 weeks pregnant. Just rolling over hurt. Talking, opening my eyes, having the lights on–it was brutal for a few hours. I didn’t sleep at all that first night, but I stayed in bed for the first 18 hours (really, what else could I do?!) Thankfully, viral gastroenteritis is a self-limiting illness which means it gets better on its own. In other words, this too shall pass! Resting your body is so, so important, especially if you are primed for labor in the near future. I’ll admit, it’s been a bit painful to see my perfectly set up homebirth room turn into a recovery room. My kitchen was meticulous the night I got sick, because just in case I went into labor, I didn’t want anyone to have to deal with a mess. Now…well, let’s just say my 3 year old poured the milk from her cereal all over the floor this morning. Gleefully. But, I have to let go of these things, because a healthy body is far more important than a clean house!

Rest isn’t just for our bodies though. Give your mind a rest too. Stress is powerful, and can completely deplete our energy even when we’re well. So grab a book, that magazine you’ve been wanting to read, or call your mother-in-law to clean or watch the kids if you really have to. Relapses, unfortunately, are common when we push too soon, so do whatever it takes to give yourself ample time to recover and regain your strength! You’ve got this, Mama!

Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.

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It’s OK Not to be Psyched About Pain in Childbirth

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Me with AnaBella, a few minutes after birth. See, I look like I forgot all about the pain, right?

Can I start by saying, of course I am eager to hold and hug and nurse and love my baby? We all are. But I don’t want to minimize the other, not-so-eager feelings that some women (myself included) have regarding childbirth. Not everyone falls into this camp, but for those who do, come join my club.

My EDD is 6 days away, and I’ve been eating 6 dates  a day for 4 weeks now, my supplies are all in place, and I’ve had more Red Raspberry Leaf Tea infusions to make me want to never want to drink a hot liquid again. I’ve done pelvic tilts by the 100s, my baby is in the “right” position, and I have a pretty rad birth tub ready to be set up in my bedroom. I’ve done this birth thing before.

Yet I’m nervous. Or reluctant. I can’t quite figure out the emotion, but it’s not the same blind excitement, the same “I’ve-got-this-in-the-bag!” I had the first time around. There’s something in me that knows. Knows the pain, the intensity, and isn’t looking forward to it.Yeah, there are women who have orgasms, and super fast, super fantastic childbirth experiences, where they purr, and just gush about how amazing/wonderful/crazy awesome childbirth is. (If that’s you, congrats. Tell me your secret in the comments.) I wasn’t one of them.

Most women aren’t.

For the vast majority of us, there is some degree of pain involved in childbirth. Given the fact that epidural usage estimates are 80-90%, it’s pretty safe to surmise that most of us aren’t eager to experience the intensity of childbirth. Maybe we feel unprepared, not confident, exhausted, or just can’t understand why someone doesn’t want to take away the pain. STAT. It’s hard for many around me to understand why I don’t want to just head the hospital, pop in an epidural, and watch a movie while my body goes through labor.

This isn’t a post about why I don’t want an epidural. I don’t take tylenol (though, to be fair, I can’t envision a time in the last few years where I’ve actually needed to), because I prefer to keep what goes into my body as clean as possible. So, an epidural doesn’t seem like a great fit for me. If you’re interested in learning a bit more about epidurals, you can head here. Instead, I want to just encourage you, in a weird sort of way.

My first birth was pretty “average.” I went to a hospital. I was in labor for 17 hours. No induction, no epidural. I walked around, went in the tub, had massage–that part of it was pretty decent. But it hurt. A lot. I hated it.

This might be news to some people. There seems to be a generalization that if you’re having an unmedicated birth, especially a home birth, you’re some kind of birthing bravado. Like you’re fearless, confident, or have a really big pelvis. Nah. Not me. I’m having a home birth this time around because I love the care of my midwives, because most births (and pain) are normal and natural, and don’t need to be treated like emergencies, and honestly, I just didn’t want to fight anyone this time. I can keep my baby with me in my bed, don’t have to explain my decisions to a dozen people–an hour–and will be in the comfort of my space, away from the sterile, and yet not-so-sterile, hospital environment.

All that said, though I’m hoping for a glorious, pain-free birth, I’m expecting and preparing for some pain. I’m breaking the rules of the natural childbirth community by saying that, I know. For those who want a natural birth, it’s all over the place – don’t listen to negative talk about birth. Fill your head with positive images of birth, don’t watch A Baby Story, don’t use the word contraction–call it a “surge,” read Ina May, take hypno-birthing–it’s FEAR that allows pain in, they say. And those are valid points, and I do whole-heartedly encourage you to look into ways to manage your pain, learn skills that will help in childbirth, don’t watch silly Hollywood depictions of birth, and rest, rest, rest in the weeks before your birth.

For many women, it’s really hard to bridge the gap of what could have been possible, and what actually happened. Yes, you *could* have had a pain-free, unmedicated labor. But what if you didn’t? Does that mean you didn’t “do it right,” or practice enough or visualize enough? How can we have a conversation about the reality of pain in most women’s birthing experiences, and yet still remain positive and encourage each other to press on and feel empowered, regardless of what is happening in your body?

I’m still mulling over that question, but in the end, if you are one of the women that experiences pain during labor, know you’re in good company. You didn’t fail. I give you permission to loathe your labor. Maybe you won’t, but if you do or if you did, it’s OK. Now you have a precious, precious baby.

And you’ll never have to deliver that baby again.

Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.