I have always thought that I would prefer to give birth at home rather than in a hospital because I knew that I would feel safer and more secure at home among familiar people and family rather than being attended by a succession of strangers consisting of whatever medical personnel happened to be on call at the time I went into labor. I also felt that there is no way a hospital, with its culture of intimidation and comfort level below that of the cheapest hotel, could measure up to home in terms of comfort. Having heard the hospital birth stories of several of my friends, I knew that the procedures and interventions routinely performed at the local hospitals would likely prolong my recovery time in comparison to having a natural birth at home and lessen my chance of being able to continue with my inflexible school schedule. I also knew that in a hospital I would likely feel more traumatized than empowered by the experience of giving birth.
My husband Kelsey and I are from Austin and moved to Bryan in 2004 so that I could go to vet school here at Texas A&M. Austin has many midwives and people receptive to giving birth outside of a hospital, but Bryan-College Station does not. When I unexpectedly became pregnant with my first baby in the spring of 2006, I frantically cast about for a midwife. Luckily, I found Toni’s website almost right away. I was immediately impressed with her in comparison to the other midwives I found because she seemed so experienced, knowledgeable, and well-grounded. I was very relieved when she said she could take me on. At that time my husband and I had health insurance that covered prenatal medical care, so in addition to visiting Toni I also visited a female OB-GYN that was covered by our policy. The stark difference between the two approaches left me even more impressed with Toni because I felt that her approach was much more compassionate and sensible than that of the physician.
On my first visit to the doctor I was shuffled through several waiting rooms and eventually deposited in an exam room with my husband and told to don a “gown” that was really more like two paper towels tied together. It was open at the front and only went halfway down my torso. She then briskly examined me, performed a pap smear that I didn’t want before I realized what was
happening, and sent me on my way to ultrasound, which yielded an estimate of the gestational age of the baby (7 weeks, 4 days) and a grainy picture of same (little peanut). When I mentioned that I had morning sickness that left me virtually anorexic and vomiting numerous times daily, she told me that was normal and jotted a note in my record. She then ushered us to her office and began to explain that her practice liked to have everyone go into labor Monday-Thursday and that if this didn’t happen by my due date I would be induced to avoid going into labor on the weekend, which would be inconvenient for them. When I explained that it probably wouldn’t even be an issue, since I was planning a home birth, she choked on her coffee and launched into a tight-lipped tirade about how birth was a serious endeavor not to be taken lightly and strongly implied that I would endanger myself and the baby by even attempting birth outside of a hospital. We then mutually decided that I should seek medical care with another provider since she wasn’t comfortable providing back-up for a home birth. Luckily, Dr. Blasingame was in town to provide that function.
Visiting Toni was so refreshing compared to that experience. She spent a lot of time talking about nutrition and told me ways to try to alleviate the morning sickness. Visiting her office was an enjoyable experience because I never had to wait and we had a lot more time to talk. Her assistant Nanci was always there too and it was fun to get to know both of them.
The focus of conversation was always positive rather than dwelling on miniscule risks pertaining to pregnant women. They were also very flexible about scheduling around my crazy school hours and the focus of visits was more about talking and checking on the health of me and the baby through non-invasive means
rather than following a standardized medical protocol involving invasive medical tests. Kelsey and I also attended Toni’s childbirth classes and I feel that they helped me a lot while I was in labor.
The night I went into labor in late December I spent the early evening walking dogs with my husband and some friends in Central Park to enjoy the Christmas lights. I had been walking several miles every day ever since winter break started in hopes of triggering labor so that I would have a few weeks home with the baby before winter break ended and I had to go back to school and leave her home with my husband. I wanted to have as much time as possible to recover.
After the park, Kelsey and I went home and were in bed by midnight. For the past several weeks, I had been experiencing sudden mild pains within my pelvic cavity which I believed to be the baby’s head striking my bladder. Two nights previous to this, I was kept awake for about 15 minutes by these sensations, but then they went away. On this night the sensations occurred again immediately after we lay down. I got up to urinate in hopes that they would go away, but they continued intermittently for over an hour and although they were not especially painful, more of a minor annoyance, they were just intense enough to prevent me from getting to sleep. Around 1:15 AM I got up to pee again because the sensations were getting stronger and was shocked at the sheer volume of urine that I had produced in less than an hour. Instead of the usual disappointing three tablespoons or so, I was peeing like a racehorse on diuretics. It was only after I got up to go back to bed and discovered that the fluid continued to leak out as I walked that I realized my water must have broken. By this time Kelsey had noticed how restless I was and came stumbling out of the bedroom. I told him my water had broken and that we would probably have to call the midwives soon. He spent the next hour trying to stop me from frantically cleaning the house. We had been told that I should rest during early labor so conserve energy, but I knew I couldn’t sleep while the contractions were occurring and I was restless, so I figured doing something productive wouldn’t hurt.
Because it was the middle of the night and I was convinced that my labor would be long since I had never had a baby before, we didn’t call Toni right away. Although the contractions were never more than 2 minutes apart, they seemed very manageable and I was pretty sure that meant that I was in early labor. When the sensations became too intense for me to comfortably traverse the house in frantic circles, I settled down on my birth ball and leaned on some pillows on our bed between contractions. I found that the contractions seemed much more painful when I tried to lie in bed, but were okay on the birth ball. However, they got more intense over the next hour and we called Toni at 2:30 AM to tell her my water had broken and I was definitely in labor. She asked if I wanted her to come right away, but I still felt like I wasn’t that far along, so I said I would call back if anything changed. Over the next two hours I we sat there in the bedroom while I managed the contractions on the birth ball and rested between each one. I felt irritated by light and had Kelsey turn off all the lights in the house except for two candles in the bedroom. By 4:30 the contractions were so intense that I had Kelsey call and tell her to come because I needed more help coping, regardless of how far along I was. I had avoided getting into the birth pool because I read that if you get in too early it will slow labor, but since the pain was getting harder to manage, we also asked her if I could get in the birth pool before she arrived and she said yes.
Unfortunately, the pool only seemed to make the contractions worse. On the birth ball I felt like I was in control. The pool was wider than I had expected and I felt groundless. I found myself flailing and splashing through contractions amid desperate attempts to cling to the slippery plastic walls. After Toni and Nanci arrived, Toni checked my dilation and told me I was complete. No wonder the contractions seemed so intense! I felt a lot better after finding that out because I knew that I had made it most of the way through the labor. She told me I could try to push any time and I was grateful to be at that stage. I decided not to use the pool again since it didn’t seem to be helping. I spent the rest of the time back in the bedroom. Once I started pushing the painful contractions seemed to disappear. Although pushing was painful, I got wonderful breaks in between pushes and Leah was born on the bed only twenty minutes after that. I was amazed at how fast the whole process was and how manageable it seemed compared to what I had expected.
Our homebirth was an amazing intimate experience that we will always cherish. It was wonderful to have my baby right in my own bedroom and to be able hold her immediately and not have her taken away. Toni made sure Leah was doing all right and allowed us make all the decisions about her care. Throughout the whole process of pregnancy and birth, Toni was professional while surrounding every interaction with a sense of calm and positive energy that I believe were crucial to making everything flow smoothly with a good outcome.