Some of you may know, though I didn’t talk about it much, that I planned to have our mancub at home. It was extremely important to me for a few reasons; however, I feel the need to put out a disclaimer that I believe every woman has the right to whatever birth experience makes her feel most safe, comfortable, nurtured, and empowered. And as this story will show, our babies, the universe, and other forces beyond our control will sometimes forge a different path than the one we choose.
I wanted to have mancub at home because it is the place I feel safest. It’s the place I am most vulnerable, emotionally present, and comfortable. I hired Rhoda Baughman as our midwife to attend the birth. She was incredible at prenatal care—extremely thorough in her education and informed consent process, and an excellent guide for nutrition and emotional wellbeing during pregnancy. I really bonded with her, and felt supported in every possible way. She knew from very early on that my greatest fear was having to transport to the hospital during the labor and delivery process. I wasn’t afraid of pain. I wasn’t even afraid for my own health. I was afraid of the hospital—afraid of the politics, the all-powerful protocol, the fear-based care, the err-on-the-side-of-extreme-caution, the sounds, the scrubs, the sterility, the cost, the insurance nightmare. All of it. scared. me. shitless. We processed those feelings, but Rhoda was gently persistent in her message that a hospital transfer doesn’t mean failure, and that when it’s necessary, it can still be a beautiful thing.
On Thursday, September 29th, I was the magical 10 days past due, and my water broke at 12:45 am. I was ecstatic! Finally, this baby was coming. I texted Rhoda, and she told me to get some sleep while I could. She texted me again at 6 am for an update.
I was still asleep. This was the first bad sign.
I woke up at 7 am, and texted Rhoda, “No contractions yet.” Mitch went to work, and my sister Kristen came over to help me begin laboring (in this case, to try to get a contraction pattern going). This was all according to our birth plan. We went into Rhoda’s office around 10 am, and when she checked for dilation and effacement, she was unable to feel either.
This was the next bad sign.
I started feeling anxious, but went home with Kristen. Rhoda had given Kristen a list of things to try that can jumpstart things, everything from nipple stimulation to walking. We picked up a breast pump and pads on the way home, and then she and I began walking and dancing around my apartment. I could get a consistent contraction pattern going, but only if I worked at it. And they never hurt. I have never wanted to feel pain so badly in my life! My mom and second sister, Grace, came by with lunch, and we kept trying to make the contractions continue. Beyoncé, Ariana Grandé, and the like were excellent, but not enough. Mitch came home around 2 pm. He knocked on our door, and when my mom and sisters answered he was leaning on the door frame and said, “Did someone order a hot piece of ass to get this labor started?” We all died laughing. Still hopeful and in good spirits, the gals left for a bit, and we tried “medicinal sexy time” to get things going. At that point the contractions died down completely. I was desperate, so we drove to Albion to have acupuncture done. I had good contractions that came all on their own in the car and in her office, but by the time we got home I had to keep moving to make them continue. At midnight, I was at 24 hours with ruptured waters.
This was getting bad.
I was so pissed. So angry at my body. I yelled and vented, and stopped talking to Rhoda (I’d called her on the way to acupuncture, and she’d started preparing me for what was coming). I called my mom at midnight, and she told me I could make peace with whatever happened. We watched 50 First Dates until 2 am, and I could see Kristen and Mitch losing steam. I felt so hopeless. We decided to go to bed. I woke up at 7 and Kristen gave me a pep talk. She told me my body would do this, it just needed time, and no one was telling me to give up yet. This whole time I never got a fever and the mancub was moving around like crazy, so I knew we were both doing fine, I just didn’t know how long it would last, and the longer my body took to kick in, the worse it looked for us.
Mitch and I went to the chiropractor (another desperate measure) around 10, and I started having some decent early labor-type contractions (harder than Braxton-Hicks), but they were ten minutes apart. We ate Panera, and they were still coming. At noon, Rhoda scheduled an NST at Dupont with her backup doctor, Dr. Stroud, so we could see how our baby was faring.
It didn’t go well.
He was responding ok, but not excellent. We spent two hours in an exam room, mostly crying. I was completely wore out, angry, devastated. And so scared. Because I had tested positive for GBS in my 35th week, our mancub was at high risk for infection at this point (past 24 hours of water rupture). While Rhoda can administer the GBS antibiotic at home, it has to be administered intravenously every 4 hours, and without labor starting, that could mean days of antibiotics. Not good for a little guy. He was already showing some stress, and ultimately, Rhoda urged us to surrender to a gentle induction procedure at the hospital, to give us the best chance of being on the antibiotic for as short a time as possible, and to give mancub the best chance of a natural delivery without a NICU stay.
At that point, I lost my shit completely.
We’d gone from waters breaking at home and the hope of a home birth, to proactive measures to avoid cesarean and a NICU stay in the hospital. My mom and Kristen came into the exam room with me and held me while I cried. Then they all left us alone, and Mitch and I cried more. Somehow, I channeled my emotion into anger, so I could get myself together. I met Dr. Clare, from Dr. Stroud’s team, who would deliver our baby, and we went to check in to Dupont Hospital. My mom and Kristen went home to get our things. (We obviously, had never packed a hospital bag.) We got into our room, I put on a gown, and they began checking us in, only to realize they couldn’t accept our insurance. For a nightmarish half hour we were calling hospitals and insurance companies and our midwife trying to figure shit out, and then found out Parkview Regional Medical was in-network for us. Back into clothes, and across the road we went to check in again.
When we were finally in our room at Parkview (which was beautiful, I have to say), Mitch’s family brought us all soup in a crockpot, and Rhoda and her assistant, Lauren, arrived. Everyone got busy making me comfortable and setting the mood—essential oils, soft music, dim lights, comfort food, jersey cotton nightgown and robe. The nurse hooked me up to the antibiotic, gave me a third of a Cytotec pill, then left us be. The plan was to give me a third a pill every four hours till morning to soften my cervix, and then start Pitocin in the morning. Hopefully, I would only need 6-8 rounds of the antibiotic. Rhoda and Lauren did some body work on me, loosening my pelvis and spinning the baby. When they finished, I stood up, and felt like a bowling ball dropped inside me. Rhoda and Lauren decided to head home for some sleep and come back in the morning for active labor. I said goodbye, and Mitch and I went for a short walk in the halls before trying to sleep.
Sleep never came.
I had three hard contractions during our walk that knocked me against the walls for support. That was around 8:30 pm. From then on, it was the most intensely focused ride of my life. Contractions came one after the other, hard and painful. When one would end, I was in a mad rush trying to find a position and a mindset to handle the next one. I labored mostly in the bathroom at first. When I started throwing up (yep, it’s gonna get graphic folks), I felt so much relief. It completely loosened me up, and became one of my go-to pain management techniques.
I hated every time I had to move positions. I hated every time they had to monitor mancub. I hated every time they had to hook me up for antibiotics. I hated every time they checked my progress. Each interruption would send me into a panic because the contractions that hit while we were moving completely overpowered me. They were the ones that took me over and made me moan in agony, not in power. But we always found a new place to ride them out, to face them. They let me labor in the shower for hours with Mitch, which was incredible. If I’d been conscious of what was going on outside of my ceaseless ocean of contraction waves, I would have realized letting me be in the water meant the constant monitors were off, which meant the first round of Cytotec was wearing off, and that they weren’t giving me more. I would have also realized I had transitioned into active labor and late dilation since water is usually reserved until after 4 cm of dilation have occurred. But I wasn’t in this reality with everyone else, and had informed everyone early on that I never wanted to see a clock or be told my progress.
After the fact, I’ve been told I progressed from 1 to 5 cm during my first round of antibiotics (before midnight), and progressed the rest of the way by about 2:30 am, when I felt an urgent need to push all on my own. Somewhere in there, my mom got Rhoda and Lauren back to the hospital, since she could tell I wasn't going to last till morning.
Dr. Clare checked me when I wanted to push and told me to wait for a last bit of cervix to move. That was the hardest. Not pushing took so much focus. I was in the laboring tub alone at that point (as I said, most of my active labor I was in the shower with Mitch, as my mom and sisters rotated in and out putting loads of counter-pressure on my sacrum). Then they moved me to the bed to help me finish dilating, which seemed to take hardly any time. (Though, I slept between every contraction.) Then I started pushing. I pushed in several positions for about 45 minutes. When he crowned, Dr. Clare was touching his head to see if his heart rate would respond, and it didn’t do as well as she was hoping. At that point, she looked at Rhoda, and said, “It’s time to get him out.”
With Rhoda on one side, my mom on the other, and Mitch watching our baby come into the world at the foot of the bed, Rhoda told me to push till he was out, and I did. He cried out as he entered the world and they placed him in my arms at 4:27 am. I came back to our world from the labor labyrinth, opened my eyes for the first time in 8 hours, and locked eyes with him. I looked into his soul, and he looked into mine, and we just stared at each other. Mitch was there by my side, and they asked us his name, and Mitch said, “Phoenix.” Our fire bird, reborn from ashes—loyal, strong, and healing.
They say I was a bossy pants during labor—telling people exactly where and when I needed pressure, silence, encouragement, and more silencing. Lots of “shush!”-ing and “1-2-3 push!” -ing. I guess it was my way of bossing my pain around. I’m so grateful for Mitch and Kristen, my mommy and Grace, Rhoda and Lauren, Dr. Clare and Dr. Stroud, and the sweet nurse Rachele (who definitely had the shittiest job cleaning up my puke).
That’s the story...here’s the lesson.
It didn’t go how I planned. There were excruciating parts. It was a lot to overcome, and we did it! It’s what this whole journey has always been about for me, surrender. I looked over my birth plan when we got home, and realized everything on it happened. It happened in a hospital, but it happened. All our intentions came to be, and we learned we’re strong. We can handle shit. I honestly feel like there’s nothing we can’t do, and as a new parent, it’s nice to have my ego that inflated right now.
I also learned to let it go.
Ultimately, MY BODY WORKS. It was important for me to know that. And now I do. It’s also important for me to let it go. Him getting here is what matters, not how.
And guys, I’m completely in love with him.
My midwife has spent years earning her excellent reputation with Dr. Stroud’s team, for the sake of women like me, whose babies need some gentle help to get here. My experience could never have been what it was without her dedication to providing the best care, even to a terrified first-time stubborn mama who wanted her home birth. She gave us our best chance, and I’m so glad we took it and were able to have as near-to-home a birth experience as we could. I’m so glad the nurses admired and respected her, and that she was willing to give up her primary caregiver position with grace to Dr. Clare and Dr. Stroud, so Phoenix and I could have those first moments together undrugged and uninterrupted. Our experience was a beautiful example of what can happen when medicine and midwifery come together to help a mom and baby do what they were made to do together.
In the end, I received only 2 rounds of antibiotics and that ⅓ of a Cytotec pill. I needed no repair work, and no other interventions or response, and neither did he. We were able to leave the hospital together, as a family of three, on his birthday, which is difficult to do these days, and have been recovering at home as if we never left. We're so grateful, happy, and whole. And super fucking tired.
It’s our story, with all it’s lovely and not so lovely parts, and I wouldn’t trade it.
He's the best. Ever.
Phoenix Washburn Fisher • Born October 1, 2016 • 7 lbs. 13 oz 20½ in.