It took us over two years to get pregnant: several IVF rounds, countless blood draws, ultrasounds, medications, and injections. So, the moment I got a positive beta, I thanked the amazing science of reproductive endocrinology, grabbed my pregnancy and ran the other way... That is, as far from standard medicine as possible.
Well, not exactly… I first went to an obstetrician whose sign read “high risk pregnancies.” On my first visit there I was advised not to exercise too hard, given how hard the pregnancy came about and that I was of advanced maternal age. That’s when I ran the other way! I’ve done my own research online that said the recommendation to keep heart rate under 130 was outdated, and that running was beneficial to the mother and baby in many ways. It’s then that I decided to go as natural as possible, and have a home birth, preferably in a tub. I didn’t know anyone who had done it, just heard something on the radio or podcasts. My friends’ responses were something between “you are brave” and “you have a good health insurance, go to a hospital.” It wasn’t enough to bully me out of my decision.
I found a midwife close to home who specialized in home birth. She provided prenatal care while allowing me to be myself, to eat a low-carb diet and to run as much as I wanted – she was a runner herself, and ran through her own 4 pregnancies! I appreciated her not pushing prenatal vitamins on me, while preparing me for a natural birth through suggested readings. With every visit, my boyfriend and my mother would express their concern for mine and baby’s safety during a home birth. The midwife would patiently answer and address their fears. All was going well. However, at 24 weeks we had a falling out, when I said that I would rather let an extremely premature baby go than have her in the NICU for months, with multiple intervention and surgeries. It was merely a philosophical discussion, following a podcast I heard about one such heartbreaking case. But the midwife was disturbed by that enough to suggest I find another provider. To my dismay, I discovered there was only one other practice that performed home births in Long Island: Gaia Midwives.
I felt extremely grateful that Gaia Midwives took on my case around week 28. Their office was an hour drive from my house, but I felt I had no choice – it was going to be home birth, and totally natural. From my first call to Gaia’s office, I felt I was in the right hands, and an inconvenience of a long drive vanished from my thought. My mother and my boyfriend continued their skepticism. It was ironic since I am the pessimist in the family who is always expecting the worst. My conviction to have a home birth was reinforced by stories of other girls on a Facebook group “August Babies” to which I belonged (given my due date was August 11). Their visits to ob’s included many more ultrasounds, tests, internal exams and interventions. Just as my readings on natural births prophesied, extra tests lead to unnecessarily early inductions and emergency c-sections. Poor parents then have to spend days or weeks in the NICU worrying sick. I heard the same stories from my friends. So…
My check-up visits with Gaia felt like visiting a very caring friend. Their office is home like, without stirrups or bright lights. I insisted they use a fetoscope instead of a doppler, and they complied every time. As with my first midwife, Amanda, Ashley and Colleen endured repetitive “what if”s from my mom and my boyfriend. They addressed all the concerns and put me at total ease. Eventually, my stubbornness won over, and we started preparing for home birth.
My pregnancy was easy to say the least. I had a little queasiness in the first trimester, but it
was never bad enough that I’d thrown up. I ate little and lost a little weight. I ran twice a week and continued my high fat low carb diet. I gained so little weight that even all-natural Gaia midwives got worried and sent me for an ultrasound around week 30. The test showed the baby was perfectly sized and healthy, and nobody compelled me to eat more to gain weight to fit into some norm. That’s a thing I loved about Gaia Midwives: at no point did they intimidate me into changing anything I did. They supported me all the way and reinforced in me the notion that pregnancy and birth are natural processes, and I should listen to my body and work with it. And so week 39 rolled in, then 40... I found myself quite large, even losing balance once when squatting to pet a neighbor’s dog. Another two weeks, and I’d have to go to a hospital. But my baby knew what she was doing!
On the morning of day 3 of 41st week, I woke up with cramps. It was 2am. I thought I was in pain. Ha, little did I know! I spent the next few hours between sitting on the toilet and laying on the floor, texting my close friend in Russia (the only person I could find to distract myself with at that early hour.) I also timed my contractions with the Baby Center app. There’s an app for everything! Contractions were coming in every 8-10 minutes, so I knew it was too early to alert anyone. Around 5am, my boyfriend noticed my absence in bed and came to see how I was. I sent him back to bed but promised him the baby would arrive before 4pm today, so he should not go to work. As soon as it hit 7 am, I texted my doula. She arrived shortly after. I met her several times before, and yet my contractions stopped for half an hour. It was exactly as the book described: something deep in the brain tells the body to shut down labor if the situation becomes unfamiliar and possibly unsafe. Thus, the less people the better – impossible in the hospital! I remember hearing from my friends that their contractions slowed down the moment they arrived at the hospital, and how they were sent home for a few hours. I skipped that step, I was at home! It was getting close to 9am and the labor pains were getting stronger. We called Gaia, and Ashley came quite quickly to assess the situation. Her estimate was that it would be a few more hours before active labor and she left. It was not an unreasonable expectation given it was my first baby. Yet, the contractions were getting intense quickly, and my doula called Gaia back less than half an hour or so telling them I was progressing faster than they thought and that someone should get here soon. Meanwhile, I asked the doula to keep my mom and boyfriend away, so they would not watch me roll in pain and make grimaces. Funny thing is, I thought they’d wait at mom’s house (just a few doors down), but they were right outside the window. Why? - I’ve asked my mom later. She said she wanted to make sure she’d be there if I were transferred to the hospital… I was a little bummed, as I’d rather they didn’t hear me screaming my lungs out… oh well, that’s history now.
We weren’t supposed to fill up the tub till midwives arrived, but Ashley gave us the green light to start, since I was in a lot of pain and they were still 40-50 min away. Then things got blurry for me. I don’t remember when I got in the tub, I don’t remember when Ashley and Colleen arrived. I do remember thinking that maybe I was wrong about opting out of an epidural. But I was in the thick of it then, there was no way back. I remember, someone took my temperature and blood pressure, and that I was continuously encouraged to sip water. I was in pain, but apparently since I was still able to make snide and sarcastic comments, things were still going to get worse.
Nobody was checking how dilated I was, a doppler wasn’t attached to my stomach, and no iv needles were inserted. My wonderful midwives knew what was happening and didn’t need unnecessary interventions. They encouraged me to move from tub to bed, bed to toilet, toilet to shower. I didn’t always comply, yet they were patient and kind. My water broke as I was in the pool, like a warm fountain of slightly darkened liquid. My labor continued for a few hours, which felt like eternity to me. Every few minutes contractions would come, and I felt as if something was pulling me into the abyss and I wanted to give in, but the bottom of the tub kept me from falling through, darn it! I wanted to hear that it would be over soon, but neither Colleen nor Ashley would lie to me and make false promises. I remember screaming at the top of my lungs, and worrying I’d scare the neighbors. I was glad my boyfriend or mom weren’t watching. But as I mentioned, they were right outside the windows!
Before the big day, we discussed my family’s presence during birth. I honestly never wanted either of them there until the baby was born. However, I pushed the idea of cutting the cord onto my boyfriend. He is a machoman from Turkey, where men usually don’t see the baby till everyone is clean and dressed in bed. My mom felt the same. Yet, amazingly, both changed their mind at the last minute and wanted to be present when the baby was about to emerge. What a wonderful turn of events! They walked into the room as I made the last push and the baby was caught and brought out of the pool. I don’t remember much, except calling for someone to take photos to capture the moment. Things went on beautifully. Our daughter
didn’t scream, nobody shook her upside down. She didn’t cry but squinted from the sensory overload and started breathing on her own, as she was put on my chest. Shortly after the placenta came out, and cord stopped pulsating, my boyfriend proudly cut the cord. That’s when it was clear to me that the baby and I were safe.
Shortly after, I got out of the tub, took a shower, and went to bed where Colleen and Ashley endured my sarcasm as they sowed a couple of my tears. All this time, the baby was on her father’s chest, skin to skin, calm and sleepy. They then weighed and measured the baby, emptied and deflated the pool, moved the displaced chairs and tables back, compiled the laundry in a bag. It was as if nothing ever happened here! Just as I was promised, my home birth was beautiful and clean. My labor and delivery went well; “textbook” as Ashley and Colleen told me later. Only about 4-5 hours of active labor. And, I was only half an hour off in my expectation of baby’s arrival. She was born at 4:35pm! (I promised my boyfriend 4pm). By 8pm, the midwives and doula were gone, and I was in my bed with dimmed lights eating mom’s bowl of soup. Then, mom, boyfriend and I quietly enjoyed watching the baby sleep, in disbelief how well everything went and how wonderful it was to be at home. I didn’t have to stay in the hospital another 1 or 2 days, constantly interrupted by changing staff. Didn’t have any strangers handling my newborn!
Before leaving, Colleen was concerned that I still haven’t peed, so she had to insert a catheter. I still don’t know how she managed to maneuver that in my tiniest bathroom, as I was sitting on the toilet. Colleen is truly amazing! The other concern was that some membranes may not have come out with a placenta, and a shot of Pitocin could have helped to expel it. I was exhausted and talked them out of it, now I think I should have listened. A few days later, I “birthed” a ball of those membranes! I started passing a huge clot of blood and membranes, size of a tennis ball, which freaked me out. I called Gaia right from the bathroom. Ashley called me back almost immediately, had me send her a photo of what was happening, and talked me through it. Again, how amazing is that?! Can you imagine calling your obstetrician at 9pm and getting support like that? Maybe it happens, but I doubt it.
Gaia’s care continued for a couple of weeks after the baby was born. Amanda and Ashley came over to monitor the baby and to check on me. Also invaluable was their continued texting support. On one of the first nights, my baby was sucking continuously and not sleeping. I texted in the middle of the night, and Colleen responded within minutes that it was not abnormal. She joked with me and calmed me down. When I called them crying about sore nipples a few days later, they also responded quickly with suggestions on what to do. I joked about subscription for continuing Gaia’s text-support beyond the first month.
This story ran away from me, so let me just cut to the chase. Having my home birth with Gaia Midwives was a wonderful experience. Their pre and postnatal support were invaluable. These amazing ladies felt like family rather than intimidating white-coats. I was lucky that my body cooperated and acted by the “textbook,” still I am sure if I was in the hospital and not under Gaia’s care, I couldn’t have avoided needles, scalpels and stirrups. I was so inspired by my caregivers, I decided to change my career aspiration from diabetes educating to midwifery. Anyone would be lucky to have Collen, Ashley and Amanda on their side.