A Natural, Post-Date Homebirth
by Mother, Stacy Henschel
The birth of Evangelene Dominica Henschel was one of the most amazing and intense experiences of my life. It was one of those defining moments like graduating from high school or getting married. Only for this experience in life, I had to reach deep inside myself and discover how strong I really was. Giving birth showed me a piece of myself that I had never seen before.
PART I: The Pregnancy
My husband, Joseph, and I were shocked when the pregnancy test read positive on August 14, 2012. I had a miscarriage the middle of June and had not had a period since then. I figured my body was still getting back to normal and it would take some time. I finally broke down and decided to take a pregnancy test when I was constantly sleeping and had no appetite. Surprise! I was pregnant…crazy.
That next week I went to my doctor to confirm everything and sure enough, it was on. The second I heard the baby’s heartbeat it became real to me. I had refused to believe it until then. The doctor printed out the 9.5-week sonogram pictures of our little pea and I carried those pictures around with me everywhere still trying to digest that Joe and I were going to be parents in less than a year. Even though I was almost thirty, I still felt like a kid. I still felt like I was not old enough or responsible enough to have a baby, an infant, entrusted to me to care and provide for…crazy.
At the 12-week mark, it was time to discuss the birth. I was set on a home birth. I absolutely, positively hate hospitals. They are where sick people go to be healed. I was not sick. I was pregnant. Being pregnant and giving birth is a beautiful thing. Bringing life into the world should not be treated as a life-threatening emergency. It is a normal, natural rite of passage for a woman, one that should be a positive and empowering experience. A birthing experience in a comfortable, calm and relaxing environment surrounded by encouraging people who will care for her. That is the atmosphere I wanted my baby born into. Convincing Joe took a little time and coercing, but he eventually became even more of an advocate than I did. It was awesome. All it takes is a little research. Knowledge is power.
Disclaimer: Women with high-risk pregnancies or pre-disposed medical conditions are an exception to the rule in the above paragraph. If at any time during my pregnancy I was labeled high-risk, my home birth would have to have been reconsidered.
Selecting our midwife was an easy choice. The mother of one of Joe’s childhood friends was the Yoda of midwives in our area and, in our minds, the only option for us. Luckily she was in town and available for our birth. We were so excited. From our first meeting with Michelle and her Birth Matters team, we felt so at home. The standard of care that they provided trumps any medical care I have ever received up to this point in my life. While seeing Michelle, I would also keep up my appointments and tests at Kaiser, my medical insurance provider. To compare and contrast the differences in quality between the two would fill up more pages than this story alone. Michelle taught us everything about eating healthy, exercising, the different tests given to the mother and to the baby, and, most importantly, she let us decide what we wanted to do. She gave us complete control and the option to choose. She made us feel like we were intelligent enough to do the research and make informed decisions about our child on our own and trusted that we would make the right decisions.
Kaiser was a complete 180. I was never given any options. I was told what to do. If I challenged something, the response was condescending and at times I was told it was required by law. “Not that the police are going to come bang on your door and demand you take it [the HIV blood test], but it is required by law.” One of the midwives literally said this to me. I began to wonder who was working for who here. The health care providers at Kaiser, most of the time titled midwives, gave me no information about how I should eat during my pregnancy or any information about what types of tests would be done on my newborn in the hospital. I was in and out in 15 minutes. Now I know I cannot speak for every doctor or nurse at Kaiser, but it felt like a conveyer belt mentality. Let’s get as many people in and out of here on a daily basis as possible. Joe and I believe we deserve to be educated in order to make informed decisions, rather than be told what to do and expected to blindly follow. I could hardly stand going to those appointments.
From week-15 of my pregnancy, I followed the Brewer’s diet. This was difficult for me because it required me to eat at least 70 grams of protein a day and I am not a protein eater. But I was faithful with obvious days of weakness… I was pregnant after all. Those late night trips to Cold Stone were a must, and logically it made sense to me at the time: ice cream=milk=protein. I did prenatal yoga and we walked a lot. I started a supplement regimen that included my prenatal vitamin, iron, calcium, probiotic, omega 3, vitamin c and alka greens. I did everything possible to stay healthy and have a low-risk pregnancy.
For the first four months of my pregnancy I was getting terrible headaches. Some that would not go away for weeks on end. Kaiser kept telling me to take Tylenol. That was the only advice they could give. One of the handouts in the information binder Michelle gave us was from a chiropractor’s office. The handout said that one of the remedies for constant headaches are chiropractic adjustments. At week 18, I started going to Dr. John Paul at the Chiropractic Life Center. He would adjust me three times a week, initially. Within two weeks, my headaches were gone and I felt great. He also encouraged me to stop taking chemically produced medicine (e.g. Tylenol, Ibuprofen, etc.). He explained to me how harmful they were not only to me but also to my growing and developing baby. I immediately stopped taking them and was completely drug free the remainder of my pregnancy.
At the 20-week mark, I was feeling great. My energy had returned to me, my belly was growing, my headaches were gone and I felt beautiful. Joe and I went on a baby-moon up the coast of California right after Christmas. It was such an unforgettable trip. When we returned home, the count down for baby Eva was on. We had much to prepare for.
PART II: The Birth
My official due date, as far as anyone could tell because of my miscarriage, was March 30, 2013. That was considered the 40-week mark. I worked up until March 29th then decided, with help from Joe and and my mom, that I should begin my maternity leave from work. March 30th came and went with no signs of labor. The next week came and I figured since we were getting close, I should set up the birthing area. We decided to put the birthing pool in Eva’s room. For some reason, we loved Eva’s room. The pink walls with white trim, the white crib and vintage dresser, the Cinderella bedding, the light blue glider…there was just something about that precious little room that made us sit in there for hours. Yes, this is where I would give birth. We set the birthing pool in the middle of the room. I set up candles and had tea tree essential oils burning with relaxing spa music playing in the background. It was ready…I was ready.
The week before, Kaiser said I needed to take a stress test then go directly to the hospital to be induced because my baby’s life could be in danger. Scared and unsure, we went to Michelle for advice. Normal gestation for pregnancy is 38-42 weeks. I was in week-41. She assured me everything was normal and that the medical world had moved the “normal” gestation up a week to 41 “just to be on the safe side.” She gave me an article to read to ease my spirit about post date births. She also gave me some homeopathic, natural labor inducing herbs, black and blue cohosh and primrose oil, to help get things moving. A week later (12 days past due) I went into my appointment with her and she said I was about three centimeters dilated and I should go into labor at any moment. That was very encouraging. She also asked if I would like for her to sweep my membranes. I said yes and I truly believe that is what set everything in motion.
I had a chiropractor adjustment right after my appointment with Michelle. I had been getting two adjustments a week to keep my body in perfect alignment for the birth. As soon as I left, I started feeling Braxton Hicks contractions. Unlike any time before, I felt like this could be the initial signs of labor but did not know for sure. These Braxton Hicks felt different. They felt sharper than the ones before but still very sporadic. It was a gorgeous day. Clear blue skies and warm sun, I wanted to feel the sand between my toes so I stopped by the beach for a while. As I sat in the sand, staring at the ocean, I prayed that God would give me strength and take away any fear that still may be lingering. The ocean always reminds me of the majesty and power of God. With God all things are possible. He created me. He created by baby. He created my body to give birth to my baby. He is all-powerful, and He is in control. There was nothing to fear. I made one last stop on my way home at the grocery store. I wanted to pick something up for dinner since Joe was going to be at a bachelor party.
It was 6:00pm when I got home. My Braxton Hicks where still coming. I called my mom to let her know how the appointment went and how I was doing. She was convinced I was in pre-labor. I was tired so I decided to lie down and take a nap. I tried to time the contractions but there was no pattern. I still had no idea if I was in labor or if this was just false labor and I didn’t want to be the boy who cried wolf…so I just laid down and slept for a couple of hours. At 8:00pm Joe called to ask how I was. I told him I was good and that I was pretty sure I was in labor at this point. My contractions were still not really following a pattern but they were coming more frequently. I was fully prepared to be in labor for 24-48 hours being a first timer so I told Joe he could stay out for a while if he wanted to. At about 8:30pm, I asked him to come home. At 9:00pm, I was absolutely sure I was in labor. Joe started timing. They started right off the bat at three and a half minutes apart lasting for 50-60 seconds. They were not too intense yet. We sat down to watch a TV show and I ate some strawberries. By 10:00pm, I could not concentrate on the TV. I told Joe we should try and sleep because my contractions were getting harder. We laid down for a couple of hours.
At 12:00pm, I timed them again. They had been at three minutes apart 60 seconds long for the last three hours. It was getting hard for me to get comfortable and they were incredibly painful. The pain was different than I expected. I was expecting period cramps. This pain was lower than that, almost in my rectum. It was an extreme feeling of pressure. All of the relaxation exercises we had practiced in our Bradley Method classes did not work. There was no way I could relax. The only technique that even remotely helped was the visualization that my cervix was a big bag of muscles that was opening up for my baby to get through. Each contraction was that big bag of muscles working. At this point I asked Joe to start filling up the birthing tub. I knew it would take a while to fill and wanted it to be ready when I was ready. I tried different positions to get comfortable. I tried leaning over the birthing ball, sitting on a chair, laying down on my side in the bed and leaning on Joe. I ended up lying on my side in the bed. Joe wanted to call Michelle but I told him I had only been in labor for three hours, I could not possibly be getting close. He called her anyway. She asked to speak with me on the phone. After that, I remember Joe blowing out all the candles, turning off the water and getting back into bed. He leaned over to me and said, “Try to get some rest, we still have a while to go.”
At 2:30pm I could not stand the pain any longer. I tried to change positions but nothing would ease the pain. I woke Joe up. He tried to help me relax. Every time I would move my body another contraction would come, sometimes one on top of the other. I didn’t want to move but I couldn’t stay in the same position because of the pain. I threw up a couple of times as well. Finally, I had enough and told Joe I was ready to get into the birthing pool. He was reluctant to let me get in because he thought we were still hours and hours away. He did not want the water to slow down my labor. Nevertheless, he complied, finished filling up the tub, lighting the candles and turning on the music.
At 3:00pm I got in the tub. It was amazing. The water helped my body to relax and feel weightless. The second contraction I had in the tub, my body naturally started pushing. I did not know what was happening. I was confused. Another contraction came and my body was pushing again. I told Joe. He couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. He said he was going to call Michelle and have her come. I asked him to wait for a few more contractions so I could gage what was really going on. I did ask him to call my mom and have her come and my sister to pick up our dog. The fifth contraction came in the birthing pool. My body again naturally pushing and all the sudden, we heard this POP! Looking into the water, it was like a water balloon popped. It was the strangest thing. My water broke. No questions now, Michelle and her assistant, Kaydee, were on their way. My mom arrived and Michelle about twenty minutes later. When they checked me, I was fully dilated and the baby was making her way down.
The pushing stage was much harder and painful than I had expected. Birth stories that I had read and the Bradley Method book described the pushing stage almost like feeling good, like feeling you are almost there. I did feel like I was progressing but this was by far the most painful stage. I could not control my body and I could not control my vocal cords. I am pretty sure that each time I pushed I sounded like a dying cow. The pressure on my rectum was crazy painful, even more so than the contractions. Joe and my mom took turns holding my hands through the contractions and giving me ice chips to suck on. They were so incredibly encouraging and comforting. Michelle and Kaydee would check my pulse and the baby’s heart beat often to make sure everything was okay. They were so calm and peaceful. Michelle was like my angel sent from Heaven. I have a picture of her just sitting back in the rocking chair with this angelic smile on her face completely calm and confident, letting nature take its course. As much pain as I was in, the atmosphere was calming and comforting. I remember I didn’t open my eyes once. I had put up Bible verses around the tub to encourage me when I thought I could not endure anymore. I didn’t look up at them one time. I was in the zone and was determined to keep my concentration. After two and a half hours of pushing, I finally felt the head coming through, the ring of fire as I have heard it referred to. I barely felt it to be honest and was so excited to finally be done. Joe got in the tub to catch her. I remember her head popping out first. With one more push, her body came out. Joe caught her and brought her up to me, our little baby girl. So beautiful! She opened up her eyes almost immediately and looked at me. She had a full head of hair and big blue eyes. I remember saying, “That’s a baby. It’s so weird.” Even though I had just pushed her out, it still didn’t seem real that I gave birth to a real, live baby. I leaned back on Joe holding my little girl in my arms. She was so calm and alert and immediately breast-fed. She was a little miracle. Evangelene Dominica was born on April 11, 2012 at 5:42am after 8.5 hours of active labor. She was 8 lb 8 oz and 21” long. I was exhausted but so excited that the labor was over and our precious little girl had arrived healthy.
After she was born, we sat there in the birthing pool together for a few minutes, capturing the first memories with our little baby girl. After about twenty-five minutes, Joe was able to cut the cord. I was having trouble expelling the placenta. After 35 minutes with no progress, Michelle asked me to get out of the tub to try and move things along. Needless to say it took about an hour for the placenta to come out. I had a second-degree tear that had to be stitched up. Once complete, I was able to hold my precious little Eva. She was an angel…the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. She had big pouty lips, gorgeous blue eyes and perfect olive skin. We nursed then fell asleep for six hours…long awaited rest we both needed. She just laid right on top of me, skin to skin. The birth was over, but I knew that something much bigger was just beginning. This moment was pure, honest and organic. I would not have had it any other way.