Even before I got pregnant, I was interested in having a homebirth. I wanted to let the birth unfold how it may, without interventions and without needing to adhere to a hospital's birth timeline. But even more important than where the birth took place was how I wanted to feel at the end of the birth. I wanted to feel empowered. I wanted to feel that my husband and I made the decisions, instead of being told what to do. And I wanted to feel that Ellington arrived in the way he was meant to arrive. Even though Ellington was not born at home, we got the birth we hoped for. I am sharing my birth story because I love reading others', and because I hope it will provide another perspective on how birth can go!
41 weeks pregnant
Everyone told me I would give birth before 40 weeks. Your belly is so big! He is already so low! - they’d say. So when our due date came and went, I started to get anxious. I knew to have a homebirth in California, labor needed to begin before the 42-week mark and I didn't want to switch to a hospital birth solely because of this reason. My midwife did a couple membrane sweeps, and I started walking more, going to acupuncture, and bouncing daily on my yoga ball.
At 41 weeks, we went for a nonstress test at our backup hospital. Ellington had great heart rate variability, but when they tested the fluid levels, we were told it was 5.9. They told us "normal" is 5-25 and they induce immediately at levels below 5. They asked us to wait in the waiting room while they reached a doctor. They also spoke with our midwife, Michelle, and it was decided we could leave and would discuss an induction with Michelle later that day.
For a homebirth, there aren’t many options for induction. One of the more popular ones is to drink castor oil. It causes intestinal contractions, which causes uterine contractions, which hopefully gets labor going. I knew the side effects were nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, but I wanted to try for our homebirth so we agreed to go for it. My husband bought castor oil and vegan ice cream to mix it into, and started preparing the house for labor the next day. Michelle recommended we get one last good night of sleep and start the castor oil in the morning. I went to bed early so I could get as much sleep as possible.
At 3:30am, I woke up to cramping. They weren’t coming in waves, but sustained cramps just like a period. They kept me up for an hour but I was able to sleep a bit more. When I woke up for the day, I just felt “off.” I couldn’t stand the noise of the TV, the light of the sun and felt so nauseous. I was hoping this was just early labor even though the cramping had stopped. I texted Michelle about how I felt and we decided to go ahead with the castor oil. I took the first dose and just stayed in bed since I felt so crappy. An hour later, I took the second dose. I texted Michelle that I felt really crappy, and she told me to hold off on the next dose and just go to acupuncture. We drove the 30 minutes to my appointment and I had to keep my eyes closed the whole time. I made it through the appointment barely, and we headed home to meet Michelle at our house.
When we got home, I felt so nauseous I could barely function. I was leaning over a stack of pillows on the bed when Michelle walked in. She noted how poorly I looked and checked my vitals. My temperature was above 100.4 (the point at which she would take me to the hospital). She also listened to Ellington’s heartbeat and it was fast - about 170 when he was normally in the 130-150 range. She told us that she recommended we go to the hospital, but was willing to give me IV fluids to see if any of this was caused by dehydration and we could stay home once I was rehydrated. Michelle had to try three veins to find one plump enough for the IV. After 1 liter, I felt a lot better and the nausea was gone!! However, my temperature was still climbing.
Michelle called the hospital to confirm they agreed I should come in and started another bag of fluids. My husband started collecting our things and packing the car. Even though we planned a homebirth, I had already packed a hospital bag just in case. Right before we left, we took my temperature one last time. It was below 99! We decided we could stay home and see if labor started on its own. I got in bed to relax. A little later Michelle took my temperature again, and it was back up. We decided it was best to head to the hospital. I remember thinking I hadn’t felt Ellington move much all day (and normally he never stopped) and that I really felt being at the hospital was the best option for us at this point.
We made the drive over to the hospital and my husband dropped me off in front with Michelle, while he parked the car. While we were waiting for a room, I felt the effects of the castor oil coming and ran to the bathroom. Hooray, we thought! If the castor oil started labor, we would just labor in the hospital! They took me into a room and I changed into a hospital gown and got in bed. They used Michelle’s IV port in my hand to start pushing more fluids and sugar water. They hooked up fetal monitoring and saw Ellington had a fast heartbeat that occasionally fell after a Braxton Hicks contraction.
Several nurses came in to do the “sepsis protocol” to determine the cause of my fever. They took cultures and blood, pricking me over and over as the doctors ordered more tests. This whole time I kept having to get up to go to the bathroom from the castor oil and every time they would have to unhook me from all these machines and I would have to push the IV cart with me. They also ordered an EKG and did two ultrasounds. One of the ultrasounds checked the fluid levels and he said they were around 13-15, not 5.9. I decided not to focus on this - we were where we were at this point.
Soon, the midwife-on-duty came in to discuss our options. Based on Ellington’s heartbeat and my temperature, they recommended we induce labor. They suggested placing a balloon in my cervix, which would manually dilate me from 2cm to 4cm. I discussed this option with my husband and Michelle, and we decided it made sense to go ahead. I declined the fentanyl for the placement (they asked SEVERAL times if I wanted pain relief). It was uncomfortable, but completely bearable with breathing. Almost immediately after placement, I started feeling contractions! They were 2-3 minutes apart and required me to close my eyes and breathe through them.
Around this time, a nurse took my temperature and it was 103. They started IV Tylenol. Another nurse came in to place a bigger, second IV line. I was laying on my side, closing my eyes through contractions, as she tried vein after vein without success. Another nurse came into help and when I asked for a minute break to deal with a contraction, she said no. I just closed my eyes and tried to escape - I imagined our babymoon in Hawaii and thought of the beach. Finally it was in and I needed to use the bathroom again.
We unplugged everything and I went to the bathroom. Let me tell you - where they had taped the lines for the balloons was NOT COMFORTABLE! I was sweating a ton and Michelle thought my fever might be breaking. As I walked back to the bed I told them I didn’t want to get in bed. It was so uncomfortable to place all my weight on my hips and I just felt like standing. They tried to let me stand but suddenly I was freezing and shaking uncontrollably. Someone grabbed a blanket, and it was wrapped around me. And then I told them I needed to throw up and a bag was handed to me and I did. The nurse said “okay back in bed.”
I don’t know how much time had passed, but eventually the doctor came back. They had been monitoring Ellington’s heartbeat and he was doing even worse. His baseline was now 200 and would fall sharply after every contraction. I knew a c-section recommendation was coming and sure enough, the words came out “at this point we recommend a c-section.” I wasn’t as upset as I thought I would be. I felt at peace with what needed to be done for Ellington's safety. I also felt that my husband and I were still following our birth plan to go as natural as possible while making sure mama and baby were safe.
I asked the doctor several questions about whether I could stay awake or if it was a true emergency, and if they could double-suture my uterus to give me the greatest chance of a VBAC. I felt like asking this last question made the doctor take me a little bit more seriously. Michelle, my husband and I discussed it and we all agreed it needed to happen.
I told the nurse we agreed to the c-section and suddenly the room was flooded with people. Due to my fever, Ellington would have to go to the NICU for precautionary antibiotics per hospital protocol. They started dressing me for surgery, my husband started putting on scrubs and papers were brought to me to sign. They started introducing doctors and nurses and I said hello to everyone. My husband gave me a kiss and I walked over to the OR with a couple nurses. I was joking with the nurses on the way and they remarked how calm I was - I remember saying well what’s the point in freaking out?!? The OR doors opened and it was shockingly bright and white. Not what I wanted for the birth but I pushed that thought aside. I got onto the table and the anesthesiologist explained the spinal procedure. They placed it and the sheet went up.
He told me they were starting and a couple minutes later my husband walked in. I felt tugging but it wasn’t as intense as I expected. What only seemed a minute later, he said "okay mama, here we go" and suddenly I heard these gurgled cries that I will never forget. I was hearing my son for the first time, and the tears just started streaming down my face. My husband was able to stand and see him and when he sat back down we just looked at each other and I said “we have a son.” I started crying harder but this made me nauseous so I tried to keep it together.
They quickly showed me Ellington and then my husband went over to the warmer with him. Soon they brought him to me and placed him on my chest. I was so surprised! I had no idea I would actually get to do skin-to-skin in the OR. Ellington was so calm, with alert eyes and he was rooting like crazy! He actually kept pushing himself over my chest trying to find the boob and had to be replaced several times. I just stared at him and smelled him and touched his skin and cried. Our little Ellington was here!
They never found the cause of the fever, and luckily, Ellington was released from the NICU Friday afternoon (after my husband pulled an all-nighter to stay with him) and we were able to go home Saturday afternoon. I have been so amazed at my body's ability to both make it through the birth and to recover afterwards. I have barely needed pain medication and feel more and more like my pre-pregnancy self each day. My husband was also an absolute ROCK during the whole birth. His calmness kept me calm, and his devotion to our son right off the bat made me feel at ease during Ellington and I's separation. We are just so grateful to be home, healthy, and happy!