Unassisted birth in our country is kind of a weird thing to talk about even amongst some of the most free-thinking birth workers I know. We all know that all birth comes with risk and that when you choose to birth, not matter where and how you do it, you are essentially picking which risks you are most comfortable with. ALL BIRTH comes with risk. It is the nature of being human. The good news is that for healthy women who have prepared mentally and physically for birth, the risk of anything going wrong is very low.
When I first started talking to this mama, Shell, over Instagram, I immediately felt a sort of sisterhood or kinship. She wanted information about homebirth midwives in our area and about my rates for doula and birth photography. We chatted here and there about her journey as a mother. We spoke on the phone about her previous births and her relationship with her husband. She wanted desperately to do things differently than she had in the past, just wasn’t sure exactly what that meant for her. We never came to any sort of “professional” working relationship. I got busy, but I thought about her every so often. Then about 6 weeks before her due date, she messaged me that she had decided to have an unassisted birth. We talked on the phone again about what that meant for her and all that she had been learning and embracing about this birth and this pregnancy. She had never had a birth at home and some questions about supplies etc and I was happy to talk with her. We even ended up talking about me being at her birth so we arranged to have me come meet her family and check out her space etc the following week.
After we met at her home, I absolutely knew that I wanted to be a part of her birth. She asked me if I’d be willing to be there and I absolutely said yes. This mama was prepared, ready, emotionally and physically for this birth and I was so happy for her. I was essentially immediately on call for her. She had never gone into labor on her own (3 prior inductions for hypertension at 37 weeks) so we really had no idea about when she would start her birthing time.
On her 39+4 day, I finally emailed her a bit of paperwork. We texted and she joked that she was hoping I’d send it to her when she was in labor. We laughed about it and I said that that would have stressed me out and also apologized for getting it to her so late in the game.
I went on about my day. I had my first trail run race that evening. About a mile from the finish, I got a text from Shell saying that her contractions were strong though not close together but she thought she could feel some “bulging.” I may have cursed out loud reading this while sweating profusely and running, then booked it to the finish line as quickly as my little legs would carry me. I booked it home, changed out of sweaty running clothes into dry ones, grabbed my gear and drove the 10 minutes over to Shell’s house. When I arrived all was calm and Shell informed me that her husband had left for California the day before for a job and that it would just be me, her, her mom and her kids in attendance. It was pretty lovely.
She called her husband to let him know that her birthing time had began and we set up her birth tub. She lit candles and placed them around the room which she had also decorated with her maternity pictures with her horse and some bible verses. Her contractions stayed well spaced out, about every 10 minutes, but indeed, they were strong. I told her this was a common thing in women who had had multiple births.
She got into the tub where things continued their pattern. Her daughter was so excited to meet the baby and her older boys came in and out. Her eldest was instrumental in helping get the tub filled! It was definitely a family affair.
After a while in the tub, she was starting to get anxious that maybe she wasn’t in labor and that she should do something to get things moving. She sat on the toilet, did some lunging on the stairs (assisted by her sweet daughter), and then decided to lay down on her bed. She voiced being worried that she wasn’t in labor and was wasting my time. I assured her that she most definitely was in labor and encouraged her to just rest and lay down. I asked her if she would like me to massage her back as it was painful for her. She’s a horsewoman and her surges were mostly being felt in her tailbone. When I placed my hands there, I could definitely feel the tension so I spent some time massaging with both my hands and a massager on her low back and hips as she relaxed and breathed through her waves. It was very quiet and peaceful and relaxed. I then applied some clary sage to the bottoms of her feet and worked some pressure points there as well that are known to help open the cervix and improve circulation to the uterus. Not 5 minutes later, she quickly rolled onto her hands and knees for a VERY strong surge, during which she also released a lot of bloody show. I smiled at her and her mom and we all knew that it was almost time.
She quickly went to the bathroom because she was feeling a lot of pressure that she had to poo. This is always a great sign that the baby has come down and wants to be born. She quickly made her way back to the birthing tub where one surge later, her waters released!
Immediately her fetal ejection reflex kicked in and she was bringing her baby down.
Her wonderful mom helped with pressure on her hips. Her children woke to the sounds of her bringing her baby down and quickly joined us to meet their baby sister. Three pushes later and she announced that the head had been born. She patiently waited until her next surge when her baby came swimming out into her hands in the water. She deftly and calmly removed the veil from her face then unwrapped the cord from around her neck before lifting her out of the water and onto her chest. It was the most beautiful, autonomous, instinctual moment at a birth I may have ever witnessed.
Due to spending very little time getting squeezed in the birth canal, Shell did some suction for her baby to help get some of the fluids that we stuck in her throat and nose by simply placing her own mouth over her babies nose and mouth and gently sucking the fluid out. We also employed a bulb syringe to help with the fluid stuck at the back of her throat, but she was pink and thriving and very calm. All the children were SO excited about it and immediately fetched her shoes, called their dad, and were itching to get their hands on their new baby sister. Shell stayed in the tub for about 20 minutes, just soaking in her sweet baby as they transitioned from their birthing time into their postpartum.
We kind of kept expecting her placenta to come, but she was having no bleeding and no signs that her placenta was ready to come out yet, so she decided to get out of the pool and move to her bed. With the help of me and her mom, she get out and we got her and baby situated in the bed. All her other kids climbed in to get a better look at their tiny sister.
Little sister was a thumb sucker but eventually decided that she would nurse too! She was so very perfect. About a solid hour after her birth, Shell said that her back was starting to hurt and she was feeling crampy so she put a leg down off the bed and I held a bowl underneath her while she pushed her placenta out. She laid back down, massaged her belly and her bleeding was extremely minimal. By allowing her body to shut off all the vessels to her placenta and letting it choose it’s time to release, she kept her bleeding to a minimum.
After this, we put a clamp on baby’s cord and her youngest got the scissors that had been specially sterilized for this moment and cut her cord.
At this point, both mom and baby were doing perfectly. It was after midnight and everyone was tucked back into bed. I told them all that I’d be back in the morning to check on them and help empty the tub. To say that it was an absolute honor and blessing to be witness to this beautiful, autonomous, wild birth would be an understatement. This mama took complete control of her health, her baby’s health, her pregnancy and her birth and it culminated in something so perfectly profound.
Unassisted birth was not the right choice for me, though I had two homebirths. It may also not be the right choice for you. But it is a choice. And it can be a perfect and meaningful and safe choice. One that deserves to be honored, shared and celebrated just like every other birth.