Confession: My home birth sucked

This mom expected to feel coached, supported and reassured. But, mostly, she felt alone and scared.

Photo: Erin McPhee
Photo: Erin McPhee

I wasn’t dead set on having my baby at home. At 40, I knew better than to expect much control over anything, let alone labour. But I suspected there would be more intervention at a hospital. The only obstetrician I ever saw told me I’d be induced at 40 weeks because of my age—no exceptions. And I wanted an experience that was more personal, less one-size-fits-all. So when I snagged a spot with a midwifery clinic, it seemed like the right fit. My prenatal appointments were so long, I ran out of questions! I noticed the midwives seemed overscheduled and constantly juggling, but I assumed that once I went into labour, I’d be the centre of attention.

At our prenatal class, my partner, Marc, and I were shown a video of a home birth. The labouring heroine never let out anything more than a low moan as several midwives calmly coached her through every contraction. Sign me up, I thought. I decided to have the plastic bedsheets on hand but to still pack a hospital bag. Either way, our midwives assured us that once active labour set in, one of them would be there to check that things were happening as they should.

A few months later, I was a week overdue, and Marc and I were about to check off Step Three in our get-the-baby-out plan (spicy dinner, red wine and, well, you know) when my water broke. I put some towels down on the bed and waited until morning to call the clinic. I laboured for 24 hours with mild(ish), irregular contractions. In that time, we had a short visit from a midwife we’d never met, and a few phone check-ins. Each time, the goal line for how regular my contractions needed to be before a midwife would join us kept moving. I questioned myself: Was I being a drama queen for wanting the midwife to come—and stay?

When our midwife at last popped in late that afternoon, I was still only a few centimetres dilated. We agreed on a sweep of my cervix to speed things up and, boy, did it ever. I had five intense contractions, one right after another, while she packed up her things. I couldn’t believe she was leaving. But again, I doubted myself. As a first-time mom, what did I know? She told us to call in an hour if the contractions continued at the same pace.

That hour passed (I barely know how). Marc called the midwife to tell her my contractions were two to three minutes apart. All my pre-labour Googling had taught me I was clearly in active labour but, incredibly, we were told to wait another hour. Any remaining composure I had vanished. I said the H-word (hospital), and that did the trick: The midwife was on her way.

Things got scary while we waited. I lay naked and howling in the tub, sure that something was going wrong. I had no idea how far along I was or how long I’d have to endure contractions that were turning me into a wild animal (I figured out later that this pretty much sums up transition). Marc did his best to be reassuring as he wiped away his own tears.

When the midwife finally arrived and tried to check my dilation, she let out a small gasp of surprise: My son was undeniably on his way out. I asked if I could deliver him in the bath, but the midwife, who was pregnant herself, asked Marc to move me to the bedroom—but only after he’d helped her carry in her equipment from her car.

I felt so low on her list of priorities. If she’d stayed after the sweep, the equipment would have been set up, the mandatory second midwife would have already arrived, and I wouldn’t have had to wait to start pushing. I remember thinking, while she had her back to me, setting things up, Um, this baby is coming. Could I get a few tips, maybe?

Then, finally: Pushing! It was glorious. At last, the coaching was exactly what I’d been hoping for. It was like the midwives were inside my brain, anticipating each new feeling. My healthy little guy was born after a half-dozen pushes.

Of the 44 hours I laboured, Marc and I were alone for all but three. Would I have a home birth again? Probably not without some assertiveness training. Maybe I could have been more open to hiring a doula or even delivering at the hospital. I certainly succeeded in my goal of limiting medical intervention in my son’s birth—though maybe a little too well.

A version of this article appeared in our February 2016 issue with the headline, “My home birth sucked”, p. 44.

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