I got pregnant with Levi right in the middle of our kitchen renovation. That seems like bad timing, but it was definitely planned that way! We had started the conversation over a year before and decided that now was the time to move forward. We were happy with our three girls, but David also wanted a boy. I did too, but I still was not as sure whether I wanted to start the baby process over again.
In the end, the deciding factor was that we were sure we would not regret it (whereas we felt that later we might regret not having that last baby). We used a book called Choose the Sex of Your Baby by Dr. Shettles to increase our chances of conceiving a boy. Yes, there is a science to it and it basically boils down to precise timing. We had to keep an extremely detailed chart of my cycle. Since we did indeed get pregnant with a boy after three girls in a row, I do recommend the book which you can get on Amazon!
Of course, I really believe God chose the sex of our baby. Using the Shettles method was less about controlling an outcome and more about giving ourselves the emotional closure of knowing that we had done everything we could to have a son. At first I wrestled with whether this seemed sexist. But I realized that this decision had nothing to do with one gender being more desirable than the other. It was about David getting the chance to have a son to relate to, just as I relate in a special way to my girls. We both knew we would be smitten with another girl. But “trying for a boy” was a way to show David that I cared about his dreams too.
A few months before I got pregnant when I was unloading groceries out of the car, June (4 years old) asked out of the blue where her baby brother was. We had a good laugh about that! She seems to know things with a lot of certainty. On the day we told her that I was pregnant she said matter-of-factly, “It’s my baby boy.” We tried to explain that it might be another sister, but she was firm. It was a boy. Her baby boy. And of course, she was right! She stills tells us all the time that she and God “picked him out.”
We have had all of our babies at home so we knew right away that we’d be calling the midwives. My pregnancy with this baby was great, though I was much more tired and cranky at the end! I think my age put a little bit more of a toll on my body in the last couple of months. My one regret about this pregnancy was that I did not go to the chiropractor more. Life just felt too busy to go as often as I probably should have. I often wonder if we would have had a smoother labor if I had.
Of course, I had high hopes for an early delivery like I’d had before. (My other two were nine and eleven days late, so I had more reason not to!) One thing that was different about this pregnancy was the amount of pro-dormal labor that I had. I had plenty of pre-labor contractions with my others, but I was always able to tell the difference between practice and the real deal. This time I could not tell! In the weeks leading up to this birth I had what felt like real labor so many times! I even called the midwives early one morning, only to have labor stop just before breakfast. I read somewhere that prodromal labor can sometimes be your body’s way of trying to reposition the baby.
The day before I went into labor was a hot April day. I was overdue by two days and letting everyone know. Our summers start in about late April, so the pool was actually warm enough to swim in. I was so cranky that David and my mom teamed up to convince me to get in. I dug up a maternity swim suit and got into that glorious water.
That evening as we were watching a movie, I felt contractions start to come at about nine or ten minutes apart. But who could know the meanings of these mysterious things? It could be early labor, it could be nothing. (It was early labor.) I went to bed and the contractions continued while I slept.
2 am: I awoke with contractions as usual. I got into a warm bath like my midwife had instructed me to. Within the next hour and a half it became obvious that I was in labor as the contractions gradually got harder and closer together. We called the midwives and the doula.
This time I decided not to send the girls anywhere. My mom was able to be here, so we decided she would look after them during labor. Actually, I had a vision of them being next to the tub while I was pushing (even though they said they really would rather play with Grandma and watch a movie!)
My doula Yvonne arrived first and helped me get situated. She said she was feeling the labor would be around six hours long (it was just about that). At this time I was laboring in my bedroom in a chair, still able to laugh and converse and think about what I was wearing. After a little bit we decided to go down to the living room to switch things up. Around this time (4:30 am) my midwives arrived. I was pacing in the living room feeling the excitement of all that was about to happen. The midwives quietly moved about the house getting their aprons on and their equipment set up. I looked at the ultrasound pictures tacked up to our wall and thought about how in just a few hours I’d be holding my son in the blue swaddle set I had neatly folded away in his dresser drawer.
5:00: My contractions were becoming stronger and coming about three minutes apart. I still felt in control but I was needing to close my eyes and breathe through the waves. We went upstairs where I kneeled next to the bed and started to feel more intense pressure.
One thing that was different about this labor was that I never got into what seemed like a good rhythm. I moved around and changed positions, looking for that sweet spot. I never did find that sweet spot. In previous labors I had felt the intensity, but I had also felt a sense of focus and progress. That was not to be found this birth.
6 am: I wanted into the tub! Maybe that would help. That warm, soothing tub of water, which had been my friend in my previous labor felt all wrong this time! I wanted something else, I just didn’t know what!
The contractions were intense and it felt good to bear down and push. My midwives asked if I could feel the baby moving down. I wasn’t sure, so they said “Put your hand up and see! Do you feel a baby’s head?” Nope. It was a lot of empty space up there!
The intensity and closeness of contractions felt like push time. I trusted myself because no one in my previous births had ever told me how dilated I was before I started pushing. It was always something that was up to my body. So I went between pushing on the toilet, in the tub, and even on the floor next to the tub. At one point I was sitting on the toilet alternating between grabbing onto David and Yvonne’s arms while trying to push. (Yvonne later showed me the bruises on her forearms and said “You don’t usually act like that in labor.”)
By this time the girls were awake and downstairs with my mom and I was making a lot of noise. When Libby covered her ears my mom decided that it was time to get everyone dressed and go out for donuts!
7 am: The midwives suggested I let myself rest on the bed. This is when I really started to feel like a caged animal! I soon moved to kneeling next to the bed and broke my water which went all over my doula! (The hazards of birth work!)
After the water broke, my midwife had me lay on my back to check me. I was 7 centimeters dilated and the baby was still very high up. That means that either I had not yet dilated past 7, or that I had dilated and just regressed.
Throughout labor, the midwives are always checking the baby’s heart rate with a hand-held doppler. It had been normal up until this time. But now the heart rate had started to vary more than they wanted. A heart rate dropping a little bit when the baby is moving down the birth canal is normal, but worrisome when he is high.
They moved me into some more positions to see if they could help him move, including side lying on the bed. At which point I yelled out “THIS SUUUCKS!” I was having terrible leg labor. Maybe it was because the position of the baby or because I never found my “zone,” but the contractions seemed more painful than other labors.
I noticed that the midwives were checking the baby’s heart rate more and more. There was a sense of concern and that something was off. There was a question raised about the next step. My midwife Leslie said it was hospital transfer.
As soon as I heard this, I was ready to go. I grabbed my yoga pants and headed for the door! I told David to drive me to the closest hospital, which in our case was Kaiser.
7:54 am: I walked down the stairs and had another one of those horrible contractions on the landing and thought two things: 1.) “I will never, ever, ever forget what these contractions feel like.” (Narrator: she would indeed very soon forget.) 2.) “I have had three natural child births and now I am going to get a c-section! (Narrator: she would have neither c-section nor epidural.)
In this moment I finally felt a tiny sliver of relief. It was okay. I was ready to have a baby at the hospital. It was time to get some drugs and get this thing out of me! It was a moment of acceptance, and thus empowerment.
My midwife Leslie called ahead to the ER and told them I was coming in. She and my doula would follow us separately. My doula chased me down with a cardigan which she threw over my nursing bra/yoga pants ensemble. I came out from my dim birth haven into the bright morning. Chucks pads were laid down for me in the front seat of our faithful 2006 Honda Civic and my midwife Rachel hopped into the back. I got to experience what it is like to drive to the hospital in the throes of labor, exactly like in the movies. David got us to the hospital about in five minutes flat. My poor midwife! But the faster he drove, the better I seemed to feel! (This was probably less about speed and more about the baby moving down into the right position.)
When we arrived, we were met at the door of the ER with a wheel chair and rushed to labor and delivery. We flew down halls and up elevators as the security guard escorted us through the back way. As I entered the L&D wing, I was somehow able to call out my name and birthdate as we rolled past the nurses’ station.
8:00: Within minutes of leaving my house, I was being gowned and put on a bed by a doctor and team of nurses. I was ready for my drugs and they could not come fast enough! The doctor who attended me introduced herself and told me that she was going to check me. (I’ll never forget her face. This is good because we would meet again!)
Almost as soon as I was positioned on the bed, she announced: “Your baby’s right here!” She instructed me to push. What!? I was a tad disappointed because where were the pain meds? As if on cue, that old familiar feeling came. The one that makes you think you have to poop, except it’s a baby.
The nurse next to me said, “That’s right honey, grab on to my arm.” Which I did. Very hard. I somehow had the presence of mind to apologize when she responded “No nails, no nails!” The excitement in the room picked up and there was a buzz of voices saying things like “Good, good, yes, keep going!”
No sooner had his head been born than the doctor called out “We’ve got sticky shoulders!” Levi is my second baby to have shoulder dystocia, my third baby to need help physically being born, and my only baby to have the cord around his neck. (In other words, he had all the things.)
The first thought in my mind was “Ok. He’s huge!” They maneuvered me into a McRoberts, which is a position used for shoulder dystocia where they hyper flex your thighs tightly to your abdomen. The nurse applied suprabupic pressure. This was not a new thing to me. Home birth midwives know these maneuvers too. I had the same thing done to me once before during the birth of my second daughter. It is not the most comfortable thing in the world, but at that point you care very little. The doctor carefully pulled on the baby to help him out. And he was born!
Later we would see that he had a true, double umbilical cord knot. They laid his warm, slippery body on my belly for a moment before they took him to the examination area. I could feel that he was just fine. David cried of relief; the only time I’ve ever seen him cry at the birth of one of our children!
There were many emotions. Relief. Disappointment. Happiness. Gratitude. Sadness that I wasn’t at home in in the privacy and sanctuary of my own bedroom.
It was 8:15 am when Levi was born. This means that he was born within a mere twenty minutes after those contractions on my stairway! As the pediatrician examined him they found the knotted cord. He was an average 7 pounds and 13 ounces (not huge like I thought). When they brought him back to me swaddled and diapered, I realized I hadn’t actually seen for myself whether this was really a boy! I took a quick peek before stating his name for the birth certificate, David Levi.
The umbilical knot likely explains the “not right” feeling of my labor and the decelerated heart rate that compelled us to transfer to the hospital. We think that maybe walking down the stairs is what allowed the baby to finally move into place for a vaginal birth. The midwives said “We never would have asked a woman in your condition to walk up and down stairs! But it’s probably what helped your baby.” I think so too. Rachel later told me that during labor she had suspected there would be shoulder dystocia.
Soon Leslie and Yvonne arrived (Rachel had been with me the whole time.) One of my friends who is a nurse at Kaiser saw on the charts that there was a home birth transfer for a fourth-time mother. She knew right away that it was me! When she came in to say hello, she told me that the doctor who had attended me was Dr. Fletcher, a mom of three and a member of one of the local church communities where we have been involved.
In the mean time my mom had taken the girls out for donuts, having no idea what happened aside from a terrifying text that we were headed to the hospital. Of course, any mother with that information would be expecting the worst! In the midst of the uncertainty, she did an amazing job at shielding my girls from any sense of fear or worry. One of their best memories in the world is going out for donuts with grandma and then coming to the hospital to meet their baby brother. To them it was magical! The stuffed animals and “big sister” stickers will never be forgotten.
As soon as we were able to, the necessary release papers were signed and the mesh panties were on. They brought me some breakfast food but I could barely eat a bite. I was definitely feeling that birth high and just wanted to go home and nurse my baby! My doula requested my placenta for encapsulation. Within three hours of arriving I was able to put on some leggings and walk out with our son! My mom brought us his carseat but in the chaos we had forgotten about baby clothes so we had to use a newborn hospital shirt as pants!
It was my first time riding home in a car with my new baby. Usually we are snuggled safely at home away from the world for at least a week or two before the baby ever leaves our house. Though it was only a five minute drive home, this was maybe the saddest part of the birth for me.
When we got home the midwives tucked us into bed just as though he’d been born at home. They set out healing herbs and came marching in singing happy birthday with a Birthstream birthday cake (a plate of nutritious snacks with a candle in the middle!) They made arrangements to come back to check on us the next day. As usual, you couldn’t even tell there had been a home birth at my house. The tub was emptied and everything tidy.
I had a lot to process in the coming days. In fact, a few days after the birth I had what I could only describe as possibly the one panic attack I’ve ever had in my life. There was a moment where I wasn’t sure what was real. How had I ended up at the hospital? Could I have had the baby at home? Was there something wrong or was it all just in my head? Did I really hear “hospital transfer” or had I fabricated it? Everything had happened so fast.
Thankfully I didn’t have to suffer with the tormenting self-doubt. I decided to call Yvonne. This is one great reason to have a doula; it is one of their roles to help you process the birth as much as you need to. I asked her to tell me what had happened during labor. I was soon calmed. Her story corroborated with my experience. When my midwives came to check on us they helped me process too. They also provided me with a copy of the detailed record they keep of all that happens in labor. (That’s the reason I can tell this story with any sort of accuracy!) The panic left and I was relieved. I trusted myself and my decision to go to the hospital.
In the coming weeks I grieved the birth experience that I wanted to have, but I did not have feelings of fear or trauma associated with the hospital transfer. I never felt afraid during labor, only frustrated at the lack of progress. My intention with home birth is always to do what is best for me and the baby. That is why the hospital is always in my plan in case it is medically necessary. It was a deviation that we were always prepared to make. For me, that moment on the stairs was the acceptance of a different path. That acceptance allowed me to feel in control again. I also think the fact that we were able to avoid emergency surgery was another big reason why I did not feel traumatized.
I deeply missed the sacred, unhurried experience of holding my baby in my own bed after birth. I also felt sad that the midwives I had bonded with were not the ones who ended up delivering him, even though they were more than qualified to do what my doctor had done. Nonetheless, I had a vaginal birth when I had expected a c-section, a perfectly beautiful healthy son in my arms, and six weeks of nurturing, postpartum care from my midwives. I had not even torn, despite his mode of arrival (thank you, evening primrose oil)! Our short, three-hour “midwifery field trip” was truly just that; a detour on the path.
There’s one more little piece that ties up this story. About a week after the birth, David came home from a men’s Bible study that he attends at our favorite coffee shop. He mentioned a new member who had just come that day. He was a homeschooling dad whose wife worked at Kaiser. Suddenly, I had a funny feeling. I knew instantly that his wife was Dr. Fletcher, the doctor who delivered our son. This small connection was such a comfort to me as I processed the birth. I felt like it was a little nudge from Lord saying “I knew what would happen and I had it handled.” Though it wasn’t my midwife who delivered my son, it was the next best thing: someone from our close community, a sister in Christ and a fellow homeschool mom. I think that’s pretty wonderful! It turns out we have more mutual friends and even met again at a couple of dinner parties.
Our son Levi is such a joy. In the newborn days having a boy was not any different than having a girl, except that he cried a lot and needed to be bounced at all times. Now that he is older, there is no question: he is definitely different than the girls. He still needs lots of movement, activity and sensory input. If he is going to have a good day, it means we are dressed and going out on a walk at 7 am. He can spot buttons, wheels and moving parts from a mile away. If there is a drawer to be opened or a cupboard to be explored, he is right there! (He bonks his head a few times a week, at least.) His first word was of course, an airplane sound.
I love and connect with each of my children in a unique way. With Levi, it is a heart-crushing love. Just watching him fascinates me and I am sure, of course, that he is a baby genius.
I didn’t get any professional photos of the birth, but below are some beautiful captures from our in-home newborn session!
If you liked this and want to read more of my home birth stories, they are all chronicled here on the blog in the links below. They are funny to read because my writing voice and story telling has changed over the years. The first two birth stories are also missing images that I haven’t been able to restore since moving blog templates, but all the details are there! Happy reading!
Michaiah’s Birth Story (May 2011)
Liberty’s Birth Story (February 2013)
Evelyn’s Birth Story (May 2015)