On Feb. 26, 2016, 11 days post date, I went to my midwife appointment at 1 p.m. for a check-up. I was on the verge of tears and eager for labor to begin. We talked about how I was feeling and checked baby’s position. I opted for a vaginal exam and was informed that I was well effaced but only slightly dilated. We decided to do a membrane sweep, and the next morning I would start herbal tinctures if labor had not begun. On my way home, I began feeling contractions. I stopped by New Leaf, a local grocery store, to get some supplies and a large bouquet of proteas, a flower that represents change and hope. I went home from there and waited for my husband Chris to arrive home from work.
At 4 p.m., Chris arrived and greeted me on the couch where I had been relaxing with occasional mild contractions. I told him I thought we might finally really be in labor, and with his arrival my body seemed to relax into the process allowing my contractions to intensify. After a few hours, we contacted our midwife, birth-support person, Eileen, and my sister, Megan. By evening, our team was at the house and my contractions were still eight minutes apart so we decided to sleep.
It was difficult to lie down but I needed the rest. The next morning I woke up ready to have the baby. I ate a decent breakfast and began allowing the contractions to come, focusing on moving deeper into them and allowing them to move the baby down.
Hours passed and my contractions became close together, intense, and sometimes lasting several minutes at a time. Chris knew intuitively how to make me most comfortable and was so calming and centered. I felt safe with him beside me, pressing on my hips, and bracing me when I couldn’t hold my own weight. We tried squatting at the sink and laboring in the backyard but the intense pain in my back had started to scare me into thinking I was in back labor, and I was noticing the signs that my labor was not progressing quickly (birth tub was not filled, assistant midwife had not arrived). It was evening and the midwife suggested I take a shower with Chris. I was scared to try any new position but agreed. The water was hot and calming but each contraction sent me flying off my birth ball to brace myself against someone or something.
On Feb. 27, after 30+ hours laboring at home, I was only 5 cm dilated and hitting a wall. The contractions were intense and long. I was experiencing back labor and my waters were bulging through my cervix. Our baby boy had not fully descended, and we couldn’t break my waters due to the possibility of having positioning issues or risking him dropping on his cord. I made the emotional decision to transport to the hospital after planning a home birth.
We wanted a home birth for the opportunity to welcome our child into our home with the least amount of intervention possible. We believe that an uncomplicated birth can be done safely at home, without need for expensive hospital care, and for us this was ideal, until of course, I realized the birth was more than what I expected.
Chris drove as carefully as possible while doing his best to soothe me during each contraction. At Dominican Community Hospital in Santa Cruz, California, they rushed us into a room and gave me fentanyl for the pain, and then set up an epidural. The moment they administered the pain medication I felt back in my skin again, relaxed and present. I had not realized how tired and overwhelmed I had been feeling. The relaxation seemed to transmit to my home-birth team. Everyone was exhausted and Chris and my sister fell asleep on the labor-room couch.
My doctor decided to break my waters and see if baby would descend properly but warned of a likely C-section. Baby descended but landed on his cord and his heart rate dropped with every contraction. The nurses constantly had to flip me from side to side. When I finally began pushing, it lasted about an hour and a half.
My husband, midwife, sister, doula, doctor and several nurses all stood around me along the sides of the bed petting my head, holding my hands, coaching and offering encouragement. The doctor urged me to push as hard as I could because baby was in distress, C-section was prepped and I had one more chance to deliver vaginally. I pushed four more times and on the final push, the doctor applied pressure to tear my perineum, and on Feb. 28, 2016, at 3:40 a.m., Sterling was born weighing an impressive 9.2 lb. and measuring 23 inches long.
We were moved to maternity but shortly after we were informed Sterling was experiencing respiratory distress, low oxygen, and fluid in his lungs. He was taken to the NICU to be monitored.
Chris and I were heartbroken to allow him to leave our room and our arms. However, we were able to be with him 24 hours a day and we fought to be there constantly. He improved quickly, faster than expected, and instead of a week like predicted, we only had to stay in the NICU for three days. We met incredible nurses and doctors, and pretended we were on a spaceship in some alternate universe, our only purpose Sterling and healing. We can’t say better things about the Dominican NICU. We feel very blessed to have such a great local team. I am also very satisfied with the labor and delivery experience at Dominican, however, the aftercare I received as a mother was less than desirable. I still wish I could have been at home surrounded by my closest family and personal items.
Though we would’ve loved to have the home birth we planned, we are so grateful for both our home-birth and hospital-birth experiences, and the incredible people who supported us. We are so proud of our little boy.
Written by Laurén O’Brien