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Pregnancy & Birth of Our 5th Child by Tonya 

Now if I were to write just a brief paragraph about my birth experience on February 26, 2014 at Morning Star Women’s Health and Birth Center in Duluth, it would go something like this:      

I am 38 years old and this was a planned and welcomed pregnancy for my husband and me.  It was also my 5th pregnancy.  I had my 1st two children at home with a midwife, the third was born by Cesarean section and the 4th was born in the hospital – a VBAC.  For this birth we wanted to return to a home-like setting and so the birth center seemed like a good “home away from home.”  I was healthy throughout my pregnancy.  After having mild contractions at home for about 2 days, labor finally progressed enough to go into the birth center.  We arrived at 2 AM and labor slowly but steadily progressed all day.  Joy, the midwife, and her assistant, Victoria, frequently checked my vitals and listened to the baby’s heartbeat and always reassured me with a, “Baby sounds good.”  I ate and drank frequently throughout labor and I was moving – walking around, dancing, or rocking in the rocking chair throughout my whole labor.  I tried the birthing tub but it didn’t seem to be what I needed.  My husband, and then later my mom, rubbed my lower back through almost every contraction.  The midwife broke my water, labor became really intense, and an hour later at about 4 PM I gave birth to our son.  I pushed for 9 minutes.  I gave birth to him while kneeling on the floor by the bed and leaning into it with my upper body. Joy, the midwife, who was sitting on the floor behind me caught the baby. He weighed 6 lbs. 7 oz., my smallest baby and was 19 ½ “ long.  This was the most intense birth I’ve experienced yet, but also the best.  Joy and Victoria were peaceful, confident and encouraging.  I felt at home and safe birthing at the birth center and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to experience the joy, hard work and empowerment of a natural birth!

But if I were to write up a birth story that included many more details, to help give a clearer picture of how things went, this is what I would say: 

This was my fifth pregnancy and birth.  I am 38 years old, and my youngest child was born almost 7 years ago.  This wasn’t an “oops” pregnancy but a purposeful “yes, let’s be open to more children added to our family at this time” and thankfully we were able to conceive.

A little of my history:  I had my first two children at home with a midwife.   Because of this I feel that I was exposed to very best natural birthing option available (for me anyway).  Eating during labor was “normal” as was making noise during contractions and moving around during labor.  Each labor and birth was allowed to unfold naturally in my own home and I am very thankful for those experiences.

With my third pregnancy, I saw a midwife in a home setting for my appointments and planned another home birth, with hopes of using a birthing tub in our home as well.  But, baby was breech and attempts to turn her failed, so we scheduled a c-section. All went well, but healing up from a c-section took much longer for me than my natural births.

With my fourth pregnancy, because of my previous c-section we opted for using a midwife in the hospital.  I had what I call “the works” with the birth of our 4th child.  I went into the hospital when contractions were about 5 minutes apart and upon getting to the hospital they slowed way down, enough to send me home again until labor got stronger.  I did my best to make the hospital feel “homey” and “safe” for I knew this would help my labor to progress, but it never felt that way to me.  Because of this and/or because of having had a previous c-section birth my labor went for over 40 hours with baby #4.  I was hooked up to an IV, given petocin to give my contractions more “oomph,” and an epidural to enable me to rest and to help with the pain.  All of this seemed like a mercy, at the time, after being in labor for so long.  For the birth I was lying in a hospital bed and told when I was having contractions and when to push.  It was still wonderful to meet our new daughter but it certainly was not the natural birth I had hoped for.

This time, for my 5th pregnancy, we were now living in a new location.  We live out in the country, all 6 of us in the small basement of the house we are building, and we are about 45 minutes away from a good hospital.  Considering our living situation and my history of having had a c-section, we felt that a home birth was not an option for us.  I started out my care at Essentia Health because they had one midwife there who I was told I could see for my appointments and use for the birth, which wasn’t entirely true.  I was blessed to have an appointment with an understanding female doctor who, after hearing me tell of my previous births and my hopes for this birth, recommended that I “check out the new birth center that is opening in Duluth.”  So, I did.  We set up a time to talk with the midwife at the Morning Star Birth Center to see if I was a good candidate for the birth center and to talk with her about the extra concerns regarding this being another VBAC birth for me.  My husband and I both felt right about using the birth center, and the midwife agreed that I would be a good candidate for birthing there, safely and naturally.  I was so happy!

In the past I have read many books about pregnancy and natural birth, but with this pregnancy I read only one, and it was possibly the best book I have read on the subject.  It was called “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth” by Ina May Gaskin.  I read and re-read many different sections, “brainwashing” myself with it’s good message.  I loved reading the birth stories of many different women who, with the help of midwives, birthed naturally at home or in a birth center.  From what I read in the book I was reminded to look at labor and birth not as an extremely painful event to tolerate or even to medicate but as good, hard work where I am working with my body and with the contractions (which she called “rushes”) to bring about a glorious end – a baby!  The idea was presented that if the labor and birth experience could be more like the intimate experience that started the pregnancy, everything will go more smoothly, naturally.  The book also encouraged me to expect some of the hard work of labor to be pleasurable.  Pleasurable?  Hhhmmm…that was a new thought. An intimate, possibly pleasurable birth experience seemed to be a better focus for me to have during labor and birth than the dread & expectation of pain that our culture seems to suggest I should have.  As best as I could I tried to have positive expectations for my labor and birth, rather than dreading it or expecting overwhelming pain.   I believe my labor at the birth center went well for me partly because of what I took to heart from this book.  A great read!!

My labor this time with my 5th baby started slowly and continued for over two days!  I began feeling very light contractions Sunday afternoon.  I started losing my mucus plug on Sunday night and more came out early Monday morning.  With my other pregnancies that usually meant I would be going into labor within about 12 hours and would have a baby within a day or so.  Not this time.   This light labor continued on through Monday and slowly gained in intensity through Tuesday, but I could still function normally.  I went for walks, danced my way through making meals, even went snowshoeing with my husband.  Nothing seemed to speed things up and I remained what we called the “slow and steady.”  But, Tuesday night labor picked up another notch and I could no longer sleep through these contractions.  Something I read in the Ina May Gaskin book was that nipple stimulation can help labor progress - not “the uncomfortable pumping the breasts kind,” but the pleasurable kind of rubbing gently, that I could do myself or ask my husband to do.  I had never done this before with previous labors but I used this “technique” once my labor was in a higher gear and it helped labor intensify even more. Yay!  At this stage I just really wanted my labor to progress!

About 1 AM on Wednesday I put in a call to Joy the midwife to let her know that my contractions were anywhere from 5-10 minutes apart.  I wanted to go in because we had a 45 minute drive to get to the birth center and I knew that I needed some time to make our birthing room feel like my “home away from home.”  We got to the birth center around 2 AM and they checked my vitals and encouraged us to settle in and get some rest if we could.  As I expected, labor slowed down on our drive to the birth center, so now the contractions (rushes) were coming about every 10 or more minutes apart.  We rested for a little while on the bed, but I really just wanted labor to progress so I had my husband do some nipple stimulation, which was much nicer of course than when I did it myself. J  That helped bring my labor back up to what it had been at home, and I could no longer rest in the bed.  While he slept some I walked around the room working through the contractions on my own.

Joy, the midwife, and her assistant, Victoria let us be alone to rest for a few hours and then began checking on me more regularly once the sun was up and my labor had progressed more.  I loved to hear one of them say, “Baby sounds good.”  Still I remained the slow and steady, which I was told was good for a VBAC birth.  After so many days of mild labor, I was very thankful and happy to be in “real” labor and working toward birth.  I had hoped that my husband and I could have some special time, just us, working through the “rushes” together, and I was glad it got to be that way.  He rubbed my lower back during each contraction once they were more intense. 

And, he kept me eating and drinking as we knew this would help keep my energy up for the hard work of labor, and it did.  I had prepared a large put of chicken soup, which I froze ahead of time, for this day.  With both of my previous home births the midwife made chicken soup for me to eat throughout labor and afterward, so in my mind chicken soup became a comforting and energizing food for me.  I made the soup with chicken, carrots, celery, barley, a little bit of onion and garlic, basil, salt and pepper – very basic but yummy.  I froze enough of the soup that I would have plenty for me, and that there would be enough for our whole family to have some if they ended up coming to the birth center, which they did.  My husband heated it up in the kitchen during my earlier labor. I ate it throughout my labor and a bowl of it after the birth as well.  I brought many other snacks and drinks with me also to have options of things to eat during labor.  At our normal breakfast time, during my light labor, my husband made me some eggs and toast.  I also had a granola bar and a banana in early labor.  I drank watered down Gatorade or an energizing labor chia drink my husband made throughout labor.  He made it by mixing 1 part chia seeds to 9 parts water, shaking it to mix it all together well. The chia seeds soak up the water and then are soft and swallowed easily.  He also mixed some lemon juice and honey in it.  I had used this drink in the past when I wanted to go for a longer run to give me energy, so I was used to it.   Later in the intense labor, two of my daughters kept me hydrated by offering me drinks with a straw or feeding me the soup.  

With this labor and birth I was more alert, energetic and aware of what was going on and what I was doing than I had been with any of my other births, and I think that was largely due to the good food and drink I was consuming throughout the whole labor.

Originally I had thought I wouldn’t want any music or perhaps just instrumental music playing in our room, but my husband played a long playlist of his favorite songs while I labored and I really enjoyed that.  Naturally I don’t just sit around very often, but like to be up, moving, doing things.  This worked best for me for my labor also.  Throughout my whole labor, I was moving, walking around, rocking in the rocking chair, swaying or dancing to the music being played in our room from my husband’s Iphone.  I did try using the birthing tub a couple times and it felt nice on my body, but for me it seemed to make labor slow down and I didn’t want that!  I couldn’t move around as much as I wanted to in the tub, so I got out.

I had talked with my children and my parents ahead of time about what I was hoping for with this labor and birth and about their part if they came to the birth center.  Everyone decided that they wanted to be there for the birth and I was ok with that.  Around noon our four children ages 15, 14, 8 & 6 came to the birth center with my parents.  Everyone came and said a brief “hello” to me at this time, and as labor wasn’t super intense yet I was able to visit a little bit in between contractions.  With my first two home births my mom was there with me and was like a doula for me each time.  Again this time, once she arrived she took on the job of rubbing my lower back through the contractions and my husband was able to take a nap.  Our 2 older girls (15 and 8 year olds) ended up staying in the room with us also, offering me drink and food when I was in intense labor.  Being that I already had some special time with just my husband for much of the day, it was nice that they were there helping me.  My Dad and my son who’s 14 mostly stayed in the other room, reading, playing games, and keeping track of our wiggly 6 year old girl.  The 6 year old girl even ended up somehow falling into the birthing tub, which is now a funny memory!  During labor I wore a swimsuit top that could be taken off easily if needed and a medium length skirt.  Knowing my Dad and son would probably be there for the birth I didn’t want to be naked.  Also, wearing a skirt made it easier to go to the bathroom, to be checked for dilation, and for squatting down during contractions.

I was quite a ways into heavier labor and my water still had not broken.  I remember asking the midwife a couple times if it had broken, for I wondered if maybe I somehow missed it happening.  I really wanted it to break for I knew this helps bring on more intense labor.  My water had always broken naturally with my 3 previous natural births.  This time Joy the midwife broke my bag of water and that really helped to speed up the labor.  I was glad she did it and within one hour our son was born!  For the whole day of laboring at the birth center my favorite laboring position was squatting beside the bed, the tub or a chair and moving my hips while someone rubbed my lower back and I breathed or moaned through the contractions.  Victoria, the assistant, was really good about telling me what a good job I was doing making noise and/or breathing through each contraction.  Her encouragement helped me to keep doing just that, which then helped me work through the intensity of the contractions, naturally!  I loved that about being at the birth center – encouragement to move around and to make noise and to do what helps my labor progress!

When it came time to birth the baby I pushed for only 9 minutes!  I was on my knees leaning into the bed with my husband holding my arms from his position on top of the bed.  Joy, the midwife, was sitting behind me on the floor ready to catch the baby. I felt like I was almost doing the splits as there was so much pressure on my hips, and I wanted to keep pulling my legs closer together.  Joy and my husband kept telling me to keep my legs apart.  The “rushes” were coming almost constantly now and I can remember groaning loudly (at least in my mind it seemed loud) with each push or breathing loudly in between each contraction.  I was sweating a lot and could feel the sweat running down my face and back.  I remember my daughters wiping my face with a cool washcloth and putting the straw in my mouth so I could drink.  I remember someone (Joy) holding a warm rag on my bottom and that felt really nice.  I was glad to be pushing and making progress.  I remember Joy asking me if I wanted to feel the head and I shook my head “no” for I just wanted him out as it was very intense!  I worked hard with my body’s “rushes” and pushed harder and longer than I thought I could at this stage.  I never felt the “ring of fire” sensation like I had with the births of my first two children; it all just felt really intense.  Then 14 hours after arriving at the birth center, at 4 PM, out he came!  Almost everyone in my family cried!  We were all so happy to finally see him!

After our son was born they moved me up on the bed so I could lie down and hold him.  I was very happy to see and hold our baby and have him lie on my chest.  Our 8 year old daughter cut the cord 17 minutes after he was born.  Joy and Victoria helped me expel the placenta while I laid on the bed.  Thankfully I did not tear but I was bruised and very sore.  I asked Joy, the midwife, later about why I was bruised as I didn’t have this with any of my other births and some of the reasons might be:  I am “older” at 38 years old, my bag of waters was broken which quickly produced more intense labor, and I birthed in an upright position.  I was very sore for a couple days afterward!  At Joy’s suggestion, I took arnica - a natural homeopathic way to deal with pain and swelling - several times a day for a couple weeks after having our son and it helped! 

The most “foggy” part of my birthing experience was right after giving birth to our son, and even though I was fairly alert from good soup and good care, I was pretty tired.  I know the baby was measured, weighed and wiped off, dressed and held by my family but I didn’t really see this as I was having an herbal bath in the tub.  The baby was brought over to me while I was in the tub and spent some time with me there.  I think I nursed him while we were in the tub.  Later I got dressed, my parents took our children home, I ate more of my good soup, and I spent some time with just my husband and our new baby.  All of my vitals, and our new son’s, were checked and we were doing well, so we went home 4 hours after he was born.

Birthing at the Morning Star birth center was a great experience!  Even at my prenatal appointments I always felt listened to and cared for. The staff was friendly and usually greeted me by name.  I liked that I could have my appointments at the same place I would be birthing at.  That helped, for me, to make it seem more like my “home away from home.”  I’d highly recommend the birth center to anyone who wants to have a joyful, empowering, natural birth with a midwife and assistants who have warm, confident, encouraging, peaceful presences! 

During my pregnancy a midwife at Morning Star told me about “placenta encapsulation.” This was my 5th pregnancy and I had never heard of this!  We have goats and our smarter & healthier goats eat their own placenta.  I learned that this is normal, to eat your own placenta, in the mammal world.  I decided to give it a try (for about $200) and the lady came right to the birth center after I gave birth to get my placenta.  I had never suffered with postpartum depression, but many women can be helped through that by eating their placenta (in capsule form).  I felt that this was my most emotional pregnancy and I thought it would be helpful for dealing with the normal emotional/hormonal ups and downs of the first few weeks.  I think it did.  Taking my placenta pills also gave me energy, so I had to be aware of when I was taking them.  Jesse Dykhuis, from Duluth Doula, who did my placenta encapsulation, was professional, informative and thoughtful.   

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