Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Special Delivery: A Homebirth after a Previous Stillbirth

This post is written with permission from the family involved.  My intent is to inspire others to think through their choices and have courage.  Deep thanks are given to Rachel and her family.


   Eight years ago, Rachel was twenty-two years old, in a troubled marriage, and pregnant.  Young, poor, and in a challenging life situation, Rachel did her best to take care of herself and eagerly awaited her baby.  She used hospital-based midwives for her care, and had a normal pregnancy.  Two weeks before her due date, her water broke.  She called her midwives who advised her to come over to the hospital to be checked.  She showered, got dressed, and came to the hospital.  When she arrived, the heart beat of the baby could not be found.  The baby had died.  Rachel labored heroically and gave birth naturally after many hours to her stillborn son David.  The cause of his death was never found, and the diagnosis of "unexplained stillbirth" was given to him. 

    The birth of David changed Rachel's life.  She describes the changes as positive, because she used her grief as a catalyst for transformation.  She began a profound spiritual journey,  left her unhealthy marriage, and basically started a new life, listening deeply into her heart to find what was good and true for her.  Rachel says "I believe that David and I had an agreement, made many lifetimes ago, that in this lifetime our time together would only last as long as it did.  For whatever reason, that was what was meant for us.  If it weren't for him, I would not be the person I am now."


   Several years later, Rachel met Henry, a gentle, compassionate man who shared her spiritual approach to life and  love of the wilderness.   They married and bought property in the mountains together, to homestead and live "back to the land" .  Rachel says "the urn of David's ashes stayed with me for years.  I didn't know what to do with them.  I often dreamed of a mountain, where I was to place his ashes, but I couldn't find that mountain.  When we walked onto our property for the first time, I looked out and could see the mountain from my dream.  I knew we were home."  That summer Rachel climbed the mountain and scattered his ashes.   A few months later, she was pregnant.

   Rachel went back to the same hospital-based midwives for her care.  She had felt well cared for with David, despite the outcome.  The midwife explained that this pregnancy would be considered high-risk, due to her history.  She outlined a plan that included multiple ultrasounds, non-stress tests for the last six weeks, and an early induction of labor.  Rachel was surprised, and went home to think about all she had been told.  She was now a wise, strong, healthy mother.  She ate all organic, whole foods, and lived an active mountain life.  Her life was full of love and joy.  She listened deeply to her heart and discovered how strongly she knew that this pregnancy was entirely different from the last, that this baby was a healthy and strong girl, and that she would be born alive.

  At the next prenatal visit, Rachel attempted to explain this all to her midwife.  She says "With the last pregnancy I did everything I was told.  I had every lab test, I had the ultra-sounds.  I did all the medical stuff, and still ended up with a dead baby.  Whether the baby lives or not has nothing to do with your lab tests and ultra-sounds.  I intend to decline them all.  The baby will live because the baby is meant to live."   The midwife became tense at this response, and Rachel feared that a hostile disagreement was about to take place.  But then the midwife took a deep breath, centered herself, and gave Rachel a gift.  The gift was in the form of these words "I think you would be happier with a homebirth midwife.  Let me give you a couple names."

  Rachel came to me at the beginning of her third trimester.  She shared her story, and we connected right away.  She wanted me to help her have this baby, and I felt honored to assist.  I was awed by her strength and clarity.  We carefully selected some lab tests for her - blood type, iron, HIV, blood sugar.  We did not do an ultrasound.  We talked a lot about feeling fetal movement, and tuning in with the baby.  We talked about her previous birth, and shed tears together.   Henry came to most of the appointments, nervous but open to learning.  They read Ina May's birth stories to each other at night.  Again and again, Rachel clearly communicated her feelings;  with a different father,  her own self so evolved and changed , and everything about her life so different,  she did not fear another stillbirth.

   Rachel gestated away happily, and her due date came and went.  She was taking evening primrose oil and a birth preparation tincture to encourage a timely labor.  Her last prenatal visit was three days after her due date.  This visit was different.   She was starting to feel anxious, and with so much time "waiting", thoughts about the stillbirth were creeping in.  I acknowledged her feelings and gave her reassurance that her feelings were normal.  It is hard to wait and wait!  We listened to the baby for a long time and heard the heart-rate accelerate with fetal movement, which is a sign of well-being.  We decided I would come and listen to the baby every couple days until labor begins.  I told her I thought she would have her baby soon.

  That same night, Rachel went into labor.  My assistant Amber and I arrived at her home around midnight.  Rachel was sitting in a comfy chair, eyes full  of tears.  We sat down beside her, listened to the baby's heart beat, and then listened to her.  Between contractions, she wept and told us how excited she was, overwhelmed with gladness.  She told us she had been holding her excitement back all this time, just keeping that little piece of her heart safe by not getting too excited.  But now that she was in labor, and was still feeling the baby move, she was suddenly feeling all the anticipation of having her real, live baby.  The tears rolled down her face, and I told her how good it was to cry, and share her feelings.

  Rachel labored beautifully through he night.  She cuddled with Henry on a mattress on the living room floor  for a long time.  She was quiet and tuned inward , and we just listened to the baby every half hour and let her be.  Each time we went to listen to the baby's heart, I felt a little extra charge, and then relief at the sound it beating away perfectly.   I focused on taking slow calming breaths in those moments, in order to maintain a calm, peaceful atmosphere for Rachel.  We gently reassured her how well it was going, how good the heart beat was. When her labor got intense, I asked her how she was doing and she said, "excited".  She never complained, and seemed to enjoy the whole labor.  I checked her once, and at three a.m. she was 8 cms.  At four a.m. her water broke with nice clear fluid, and a half hour later she felt like pushing.  She lay on her side for a while just lightly pushing as her body told her until I could tell the baby had moved way down into her pelvis. I invited her to sit on my Amish birthing stool and ten minutes later her nine pound baby girl was born.   Zoe Elizabeth was born pink and healthy, and was contentedly nursing by the time she was thirty minutes old. 



   Rachel had been right- her baby was strong and healthy, and meant for this world.  As her midwife, I trusted  both her inner wisdom and her body's ability to birth.  During her birth  I was careful to respect who she is and what her personal process entailed.  She was not just "another patient".   This very personal, individualized approach is a hallmark of homebirth midwifery.   I am very grateful to her for inviting me to be her midwife, and now for her generosity in allowing me to share this story with others.  May it be healing to those that need healing, and inspirational to those that need inspiration!

18 comments:

KLO said...

Thank you Dena. This story is beautifully told! May the courage and tenderness spread to all birthing Mamas!

constancerock said...

So beautiful Dena! Thank you, thank you for sharing this story.

Dena Moes said...

thank you for the encouragement. sharing the stories of brave, wise women is a joy for me

Mama V said...

Thank you! Beautifully told!

Monica said...

What an amazing and beautiful story. It brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing.

Adèle said...

How come doctors try to impose C-sections on almost every woman who's having a normal healthy pregnancy, but let Rachel deliver her stillborn baby vaginally? Is that common? To make women go through labour when they are having stillborns but not when the baby is healthy?

Paula Schnebelt, LM, CPM said...

i am honored to share this story. thank you.

Tyann Hess said...

I am totally inspired to read this story. I had a homebirth with our first child, Paityn. She was stillborn but we had no idea. We are currently preparing for our second homebirth, with the same midwife. We are having another girl and I feel very confident but I can't help but have a little anxiety. Thank you for sharing!

eulogos said...

Adele, I am sure the doctors didn't "make" Rachel deliver her stillborn baby vaginally. I feel sure that if a woman said that she didn't want to go through labor when she knew the baby was dead, she would be offered a C section. Hopefully she would be made aware that this might limit her future choices for delivery. However doctors won't push a C section on a woman whose baby is dead, because after all there is no worry that the baby will die or be damaged during labor (and that they could be sued for it.)
I would rather say that Rachel chose to deliver her stillborn baby vaginally than that the doctor "let" her do it, wouldn't you?
Susan Peterson

Becky said...

I NEED a midwife like you. NEED need. Sigh.

Dena Moes said...

Tyann - I wish you well on your upcoming birth journey, May your baby be born healthy and strong!

Adele, I agree with eulogos comment - vaginal birth is safer for women than cesarean birth. Cesareans are usually done with the baby's health status in mind. She wanted to birth naturally, as well, and not undergo unnecessary abdominal surgery.

Becky - where do you live ? Do you have a midwife? Maybe we can find one for you....

Sarah said...

Thank you for sharing this, and please thank your client as well.

As someone almost 28w pregnant after my son was stillborn last March, I needed to read this. Needed it so badly, and so thank you.

We're planning a homebirth for this baby and I oscillate between complete confidence everything will be fine and normal and terror for losing again (even though I have no control over any of this).

It is so deeply reassuring that Rachel was able to do what I so deeply want to do; give birth to a living baby at home, peacefully.

Sita said...

How heart wrenching and beautiful. I'm in tears. What an amazing woman and mother Rachel is! Thank you for sharing.

crystal sams said...

Thanks so much for this inspiring story. I planned a homebirth with my second child , our son, Zion. I had a perfect pregnancy that ended in stillbirth at 4owks2days. I was so devastated not only for the loss of my son but also the loss of my birth I had dreamed of and planned for. If God ever chose to bless me again with a child I would go on to have a home birth . Thanks for this beautiful story it is so close to my heart

crystal sams said...

Three weeks after my last post I found out that I was over 2 months pregnant. I had went to the herb store to get herbs to help me get my cycle back again b/c I had not had one b/c I was pumping and donating my milk for those months after Zion's death. The sales woman wouldn't sale the product until I took a test and it was positive.I am a little anxious now that I am 13 weeks and this due date is the day I buried my son(one wk after his due date).I pray that my pregnancy will be a great as my last !

Dena Moes said...

Crystal - thanks for sharing this news with us! Please take good care of yourself and let us know how this pregnancy progresses. Blessings!

Michelle said...

I just ran across this entry and wanted to respond with a thank you for sharing this story. I can relate so much to the intuition of just knowing someone isn't meant to stay long and in the same breath knowing when all is well. I had a stillbirth myself in 2005 where my baby died during labor. This woman's perspective has helped me get re-centered for my own upcoming birth (which will be my 3rd one since my loss) Again thank you for the story and all that you do as a midwife.

Shannon Wilson said...

I know this is an old post,but I just wanted to say thank you so much for sharing! I too gave birth to a stillborn baby boy. I live in Indiana, and had planned for a home birth, and had two separate midwives during my pregnancy. The first kept trying to push medical procedures down my throat so I found a different midwife about halfway through my pregnancy. My second midwife and I got along very well until about 36 weeks when she kept insisting I have yet another ultrasound. I told her I would prefer not to, and the next day I received an email telling me I needed to seek prenatal care elsewhere. Of course at 36 weeks, I had nowhere to turn to. I ended up laboring at home for 28 hours before I finally decided to head to the ER. When I got there, they could not find a heartbeat. They never found a reason. I am now 14 weeks pregnant and returned to the doctor who delivered my little guy at the hospital. Within minutes of being there she had a huge list of tests she wanted to put me through, and without even doing anything else told me I would need to be induced. We spent the majority of my first appointment arguing over an unnecessary blood test I had already had just 4 months prior that she swore I needed because the hospital "requires" it. I was so upset by the time I left, I decided I probably wouldn't bother returning. I felt the same way Rachel did, if this baby is meant to live, he will live. I wish I could find a midwife like you. It scares me to think I will have to do this alone and that my poor husband will have to go through this with me without any help, but at this point it seems we have exhausted nearly all of our options in our area. Thank you for being there for Rachel when others might not have been. I know for certain that makes all the difference.