Yes, you read the title of this blog post correctly. I experienced an unplanned home birth. I am certainly not the first woman to do this, of course, but it was enough of a surprise that I thought the story worth sharing.
On Monday, May 25, 2015, I was 40 weeks and 4 days pregnant. Our firstborn would arrive at any time — and we were ready. I’d had a textbook-perfect pregnancy. (I hadn’t even thrown up once!) My husband Mark and I had done a tour of the Lois Hole Hospital for Women at the Royal Alexandra. That’s where we planned to have our baby, with the care of our midwives, who had special permission to deliver babies there. We live only 5 minutes away, smack-dab in Downtown Edmonton, after all!
We’d hired a wonderful doula for extra physical, emotional, and moral support. We’d done pre-natal partner class, where we’d practiced birthing positions and physical support techniques. My three, meticulously-packed hospital bags were sitting in the crib. Baby supplies and frozen meals were prepped at home. It would be routine. The hospital was only a 5-minute drive from our loft, after all. On the tour of the Lois Hole, we were warned not to come to admittance prematurely, as it was common to be sent home. Once labor began, our plan was simply to contact our midwives and doula, have them come meet us at our place, check on my progress, and then proceed to the hospital as a team. We’d imagined everything going smoothly. Easy, right? Wrong…
The entire labor and delivery process started in the early morning and wrapped-up before the noon hour. Right in our bedroom. On our bed. From beginning to end. In the photo above, Alex was only hours old.
It began with light cramps at five o’clock in the morning, which intensified quickly. At the time, I had no comparison for labor pain progression, and thought the intensity was normal. I knew that this was it… today was going to be Alex’s birthday. Mark notified our doula and midwives.
My contractions worsened. “What should I do, Mark?” I asked.
His response was to relax, breathe, have something to eat, and wait for our team, as per the plan. That worked for us for about an hour. We knew the hospital was within a few minutes of home, so we weren’t rushing out the door without our caregivers. I had some greek yogurt and granola, a massive glass of cold milk, and slid back under our warm comforter. My husband texted our doula and midwives again, who were on their way from attending another early-morning birth in Leduc. Our doula arrived shortly before 7; she helped me manage the pain by pushing on my hips and tried her best to keep my husband and I calm. After an hour of managing terribly painful, escalating contractions, we got our midwives on speaker phone.
“Do you feel like you have to push?” they asked. I remember it so clearly.
“Yes!” I screamed.
“It sounds like you are going to have your baby right there. We are on our way!”
I had never been so terrified in all my life — this was not the plan.
It was all a blur until the midwives arrived. They quickly improvised by placing a shower curtain over our mattress, grabbing our old brown towels, and helping me slowly move between my bathroom and laying on my bed. The laboring was undeniably intense. I have no other words to describe it. My mind could only focus on the burning, pulsing, achey surges that pushed my hips apart. My last effort was the hardest. I hugged my nursing pillow and braced myself through each surge, and felt transition noticeably. The cramps stopped, but an enormous pressure came over my abdomen and pressed down on my pelvic floor. It stung. Ouch. Finally, Alex was on his way out. I remember our doula directing me to hold my left leg up for pushing leverage.
Our son was born at 11:37 that morning in our third-floor loft. Right in our bedroom, on our king bed.
My first thought: man, he sure looks like his father. He was so goopy and precious. His squished-up face was the most glorious one I’d ever laid eyes on. He cried the most beautiful cry. I immediately put my pointer finger in his fresh little palm and he grasped it. I kissed his forehead. I cried. I could not believe what had just happened. Mark and I soaked in the moment. He said, “I’m so proud of you.” We just smiled at each other and laughed; two new parents who had no idea what to do next with our wriggly little bundle of love.
As my midwives weighed, measured, and swaddled Alex, got everything under control, and checked me out, I just laid there on my bed in awe. I kept thinking: this is going to make one hell of a story. I had a second-degree tear, but hadn’t felt it distinctly. I only remembered birth as one enormous effort.
So, what did I learn from my birth experience?
How to Have an Unplanned Home Birth in 5 Easy Steps
Plan your labor and delivery as though you will give birth at the hospital.
This is key. To plan a home birth and actually have a home birth defeats the purpose. Think: there will be no surprises in giving birth to a baby. It will all go exactly as I envision; it will be a quiet, simple process. My hair and makeup will stay preserved and I will walk out of there with heels and a pretty gown on like Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge.
Tell your doctor/midwife and doula (if you have one) that you have your bags diligently packed, and list all contents: trail mix, water, candy, birth vision, affirmations, yoga ball, essential oil nebulizer, and massage oil.
The tools that you pack for your birth are important, aren’t they? Make sure you have absolutely everything on the suggested list. Because you never know what surprises could pop up, or how hungry you might be. Be sure you grab the trail mix with chocolates in it. But don’t buy the full-sugar candies, too much of a rush! Create a birth vision on a decorated piece of construction paper that you will read over and over. Write down at least 12 affirmations. Buy the clary sage oil specifically for the birth-day. And, oh! The massage oil. Your partner will need to massage your back — so don’t forget that.
Forget that you are over 40 weeks pregnant. Instead, walk 10 city blocks, go swimming, and eat a spicy tandoori wrap… all in one day. This will ensure impending labor contractions.
Everyone and their friends will give you advice on how to get labor going. Take all advice. Walk like your life depends on it, even though you waddle slowly and hold up cars that are turning right at a red. You will get to the curb eventually. Take a leisurely swim at the local Y. (Is anything done leisurely when you’re that huge?) Eat half of the chicken tandoori wrap your husband (or partner) orders at Remedy Café, even after he asked what you wanted, and you replied that you weren’t hungry. (Ha-ha)
Stay at home as contractions worsen, thinking “this can’t be it already” and “they’ll just send us home anyway.”
See story above.
Find the closest pillow or human to death grip while pushing your baby out, on your bed, in whatever position you can tolerate while in that much agony.
It doesn’t matter if a woman believes that birth is a painful experience or an empowering one — let’s just get the truth out: it hurts. Like nothing you can ever, ever, ever describe or imagine. Especially without the drugs. I believe that the “pain” or “empowerment” felt is all in how a woman “handles” the birth itself. I won’t lie; I screamed, moaned, cried, begged for mercy… and I’d do it all again without shame. I did not find the experience beautiful, powerful, exciting, or empowering. If you had a natural birth and did not make glass shatter — I’m in awe. Our loft is only two stories above a hair salon. Good thing they aren’t open on Mondays, because their clients would definitely not be back. The pigeons definitely flew far from the rooftops that day.
Thank you for reading this with a sense of humor. Please know that, although the day I birthed Alex was an intense day, it was the best day of the rest of my life. Growing and birthing my son is my biggest accomplishment. And I would definitely do it all over again for him.
To end, I’d like to share a very accurate quote from one of my favorites, Carol Burnett:
Giving birth is like taking your lower lip and forcing it over your head.