Monday, June 28, 2010

Natural Birth Series: Home Birth

I am pretty mainstream when it comes to medical procedures and never really considered anything other than a regular hospital birth.  I planned to deliver vaginally -- but if there was a problem I was completely open to a c-section if medically necessary.  Luckily, I didn't need a c-section, nor did I require pitocin.  I did, however, opt for the epidural.  I was very fortunate -- my labor was smooth, rather short, and all went well.  (Well, the cord was wrapped around Sophie's neck twice, but Dr. Seigel calmly asked me to stop pushing and quickly removed the cord.)  I have only great things to say about Dr. Seigel and the nurses that cared for me at INOVA Alexandria.  (It's the lactation consultant I'm still pissed at!)  

Every couple envisions the birth of their child differently.  Some are hands off, while others want more control over the situation.  Some don't mind the use of painkillers and monitors, while others don't want to use drugs or monitors of any sort.  Everyone has their reasons and I respect whatever choice a woman makes (well, as long as her decision doesn't impact the health/welfare of the child).  That said, I have contacted some local moms to discuss something that I cannot--natural birthing methods.  I think a lot of women avoid these options out of fear of the unknown.  So, in the event any of you are interested in trying one of these methods or just curious as to what they entail, here's your chance to hear (er, read) why women chose these methods and how their deliveries actually played out.  Thanks to all the moms who contributed their stories!

Zoe's Story: Home Birth

My husband and I are self-confessed control freaks; we are also homebodies.  Part of me thinks we like to stay home because we have more control over the environment.  With this in mind, I can’t believe we didn’t choose to have a home birth sooner rather than wait for our third child.  When I proposed the idea to my husband, his first reaction was one of fear (what if something is wrong with the baby) and neurosis (who will clean up the ‘mess’).  But once I showed him multiple studies citing the safety of home birth and reassured him that the ‘mess’ is handled by the midwife, he was in.  I believe his exact words were “you know I will do anything not to have to leave the house.”

My prior births had been in hospitals.  I had been induced (early) for fear ‘the baby would be too big,’ given epidurals that did not work, and told when, in what position and how to push during labor.  My babies were taken from me for various tests and baths, my husband could not spend the night with me in the hospital and we had to wait on a doctor to be discharged.  While I was often given choices, I was also told which choice would be best and I had believed my doctors and nurses had our best interests at heart.  Sometimes, however, I was not even given choices; things were just done as part of ‘standard procedure.’  After our second child was born, I was angry at the system for making it more about them than about my family. 

I began looking into my options by speaking to a friend of mine who was a doula and my chiropractor, Michelle Pietrantone of Capitol Rehab of Ashburn (  Both had attended home births in our area and were familiar with the process and the midwives.  I read everything on the Northern Virginia Homebirth Community Web site ( and joined their Yahoo group.  When you have a home birth, you are assisted by a licensed midwife.  After meeting with several very competent women, we chose to deliver with Marilee Pinkleton, CPM, LM of TLC Birth

We had not attended any natural childbirth classes, but since it was my third pregnancy and
epidurals had not worked in the past, we were confident we would be prepared for handling the process.  Perhaps the best thing I did to prepare was read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.  I firmly believe that any woman, no matter what birthing options she chooses, should read this book.  While Ina May is a midwife and supports natural child birth, the book is also a wealth of knowledge regarding both the history of childbirth and the fascinating science behind a laboring woman’s body.  I have no doubt that my knowledge gained from her book gave me the peace of mind to deliver a baby without the use of medical intervention.

For prenatal care, Marilee and her assistant came to my home for each of my prenatal visits.  They were able to use a Doppler so I could hear the heart beat, could order all of the same tests as if I were seeing an OB, and could advise me on supplements and foods I could be taking to maintain optimal health.  Our visits were usually an entire hour or more in length, during which we were able to discuss anything that was going on with me and my pregnancy.  They presented me with every option and scenario possible, and gave my husband and me time to discuss and decide what we wanted to do.  Because I had contracted Lyme disease during my pregnancy, I needed special tests done on the placenta and cord blood.  We also chose to bank our cord blood.  Marilee was able to handle all of this for us.  We were able to call them or e-mail them, night and day, and received answers within the hour.  When I came down with H1N1 during my pregnancy, Marilee made a special visit and called several times a day to check on me.  By the time I delivered, it felt like they were a part of the family. 

To prepare for the big day, I was given a list of supplies I would need in the home for delivery.  A majority of the items I already had, and the remainder I was able to purchase from our local pharmacy.  Two weeks before my due date, Marilee put everything together and walked me through what I could expect.  I have never felt more secure or more prepared to have a baby.

On the day our baby girl was born, my husband and I spent the morning playing with our two boys and enjoyed our last day of being just the four of us.  I called Marilee to tell her I was having contractions, and she recommended I touch base with her in several hours and let her know how things progressed.  We took the kids for a walk and had early lunch. By 11:00 a.m., my contractions began to increase in severity and timing, so we touched base with Marilee again.  My husband and I began to make phone calls to rouse the troops who had offered to attend the delivery and bake cookies to pass the time.  We found a play date for our oldest child to get him out of the house, and a sitter for our younger son for when he woke from his nap.  At noon, I went upstairs to my bedroom to see if taking a bath would make me more comfortable while my husband waited for our son’s friend to pick him up.  Words cannot express how comforting it was to be laboring in my home, in my own clothes, walking barefoot on my carpet rather than pacing the institutional halls of a hospital in slippers I would surely throw out after being on hospital floors.

At 12:40 p.m., my water broke and we knew the baby would soon be with us.  Marilee and her assistant laid out pads on the floor, and checked the baby’s heart rate.  I found that kneeling with my head on my bed, as if I was praying, was the most comfortable position, and they worked around me.  I could smell the cookies my husband and I had been baking, I was in the comfort of my home only surrounded by people I know and love, and I could eat and drink all I wanted.  When I felt the urge to push, I pushed and after three intense pushes, our baby arrived.  My husband ‘caught’ the baby, announced “It’s a Boy” and handed the baby to me.  The baby and I were helped into bed, and he was covered with blankets and rubbed until we heard a soft cry from his first breath.  Eric and I took turns holding our bundle, while Marilee and her assistant took care of the placenta and cord.  Periodically, the baby and I were checked to ensure we were doing well.

An hour and a half passed and we could not agree on a name, so Marilee suggested getting the baby’s weight and length so we could at least give that information to our friends and family.  Up until this time, no one had held our child except my husband and me.  At the edge of our bed, Marilee placed our baby and opened his blankets and began to laugh.  She gave him back to me, and suggested I take a good look at my baby.  When I opened the blankets for the first time, I discovered that he was a SHE!  The laughter in our bedroom at that moment could be heard for miles.  Around this time, our youngest child woke from his nap and our older son came home from his play date.  In the comfort of their parent’s bedroom, they were able to meet and hold their baby sister for the first time.  Marilee and her assistant stayed with us for several hours to ensure both the baby and I continued to do well.  A friend brought us dinner, and helped get our sons to bed.  My husband, our new baby girl and I fell asleep together in our home.

The next day and one day a week for the next six weeks, Marilee and her assistant came to visit both the baby and me.  During that time we were given full exams, all state-required testing and labs were done on the baby, and we were given assistance on nursing and nutrition.  Neither my baby nor I had to leave the home to go to a doctor’s office; I did not have to leave my other children to see a doctor, either.  Marilee also filled out and submitted all paperwork necessary for our daughter’s birth certificate and social security number.

While I understand home birth is not for everyone, I hope one day it will be just as easy an option as hospital birth.  We were lucky in that the state of Virginia allows home births, that there are midwives willing to train for home birth, and that there are some doctors who support home birth and are comfortable stepping in should the laboring mother have to transfer to a hospital.  We were also lucky in that our insurance paid for most of the $3500 delivery (less than half of what it costs to have a baby in the hospital).  Finally, we were lucky to have such a great network of friends and family who supported, even applauded, our decision.  Again, I wish it was not luck, but ‘standard operating procedure.’

My husband and I are now huge advocates of home birth and are more than willing to talk to anyone about why we chose home birth and how happy we are with the experience.  In our opinion, hospitals are where you go when you are sick or need surgery.  A baby should be born at home.

Zoe B (36)
Ashburn, VA