It was only three days past the due date of our second daughter, but I was feeling several time crunches: the start of Passover the following week, my husband leaving for a new job across the country in three weeks, and a desperate desire to avoid a C-section after a disempowering birth experience and rough recovery following the birth of our elder daughter.
Her birth was not what I had hoped for. I had a strong preference for an unmedicated birth, but 24 hours after an induction, I was exhausted, in incredible pain, and gave in. After the epidural, my labor stalled, I spiked a fever, and the baby did not descend any further, so I ended up with a disappointing unplanned C-section. Our daughter had significant weight loss and breastfeeding difficulties that I, rightly or wrongly, attributed in part to my choice to get the epidural.
Thank God, all of our difficulties were resolved, but I was hoping to have a better birth experience with baby #2. I had carefully stacked my cards for a successful vaginal birth after C-section (VBAC) in a hospital: choosing a supportive obstetrician, hiring a doula very experienced with VBACs, taking recommended supplements to soften the cervix, exercising regularly, eating a powerhouse diet, and seeing a chiropractor specializing in pregnancy to make sure my pelvis was optimally aligned.
Finally, I got an induction treatment on Monday afternoon with an acupuncturist with expertise in treating pregnant women. I was skeptical that this treatment was going to work, but the baby did become very active during the treatment, and I had some strong contractions throughout the evening that dissipated by Tuesday morning. Throughout the day on Tuesday I had mild, sporadic contractions like the ones I had been having for three weeks, so I went for a swim and to three doctor’s appointments.
Wednesday at 3:00 a.m. I started to have what I call “not fooling” contractions, but they were coming about 15 minutes apart. My OB, understanding my birth preferences, told me not to call him or proceed to the hospital until my contractions were one minute long, five minutes apart, and continuing at that pace for one hour.
Around 4:40 a.m., the contractions got stronger and moved to my back. At that point I called my doula and asked if she thought I should ask my husband David’s parents to make the hour-long trip from their house to ours to watch our now 2-year-old. She said, “At 15 minutes apart, this could go on for days and might stop at sunrise. Why don’t we touch base at 7 a.m.?” This made sense to me, but I was ravenous, and went downstairs to eat a full breakfast. I’m glad I did! Amazingly, I fell asleep between intense contractions, but those continued apace until 6:30 a.m., when I called my mother-in-law and told her to clear her calendar.
I made my way to the bathroom to draw a bath to see if my contractions would be less painful in water. While the bath water ran, David was attending to our daughter downstairs. Out of the blue, I found myself gripping the windowsill, looked down at my knees shaking, and thought, “Oh my God, I’m in transition.”
I yelled, “Help! Help!” as loud as I could, but I barely had a voice. It took superhuman effort to communicate at all, and I couldn’t move to turn off the running water. About the fourth time I yelled, David heard me and ran upstairs. We called the doula, who told David to get me to the hospital right away. He said he had to go get our neighbor to watch our toddler until his parents arrived, and I squeaked out, “She’s coming.”
David said, “That’s a terrible idea! We’re not bringing her to the hospital!”
“No, no,” I replied, pointing to my belly. “She’s coming!”
I was in full “beast mode” at that point: There was no fear whatsoever. I was running on 100 percent instinct, and totally committed to doing what had to be done. It was the most salient example in my life of my body completely taking over and me knowing instinctively what to do. I don’t think that David or I will ever forget the soundtrack to our accidental home birth: our toddler screaming over and over downstairs, “Daddy! Read a book!”
I then declared, not very nicely, that I had to use the toilet, feeling like I had to take the biggest bowel movement in history. I sat down, gave one big, painless push, and something massive fell into the toilet. I was in shock and couldn’t move, but David was yelling, “Get up! Get up!” He later said it sounded like a cantaloupe splashed in the toilet, and he knew it was either every one of my internal organs—or our baby.
Somehow my leaden body found the ability to get up, though I felt like my brain was disconnected from my body. David scooped the baby out of the toilet and called 911 as I climbed into the bathtub and stood, while David held our daughter who was still attached to me via the umbilical cord wrapped around my thigh.
The dispatcher asked if the baby was alive. We shakily answered, “We don’t know.” Her mouth made tiny, sporadic movements, but other than that she was motionless and completely silent. Used to dramatized births on TV and the arrival of first child via C-section, we expected a healthy baby to be born screaming.
“I hear her, she’s alive,” the 911 dispatcher said.
“You have to send somebody,” I begged, and she assured me that paramedics were on the way. I stood there in shock, up to my calves in bloody water, holding a baby that I was not yet convinced was going to make it, watching as David scrambled to follow the dispatcher’s instructions on how to wrap the baby and tie off and cut the umbilical cord. In the midst of all of this, the paramedics arrive, and David had to go let them in the house.
“Ma’am, you’re amazing,” the lead paramedic said when he saw me, shaking his head. At that point, I was still in shock, but starting to feel confident that the baby was going to be fine. It was only after I was recovering in the hospital later that I felt truly proud and euphoric about what I had done.
The baby and I were taken to the hospital by ambulance where we were greeted by emergency room staff who were eager to see the home-birthing woman and the baby born into the toilet. The neonatologist whisked the baby away and wheeled me up to labor and delivery, where I delivered the placenta and had one tear stitched up. The doctors were amazed at how well both of us were doing. Within 30 minutes, our newborn was suckling at my breast.
Every time I think of our birth story, I am amazed at how it unfolded. I didn’t really process the seriousness of what had happened until I returned home from the hospital and saw the infant survival kit that the paramedics had left. It sure wasn’t the birth we planned, but it was fantastic, and we are grateful to God that everyone was OK. Actually, better than OK: It was wonderful.