How I Accidentally had an Unassisted Intervention-free Homebirth
Content Warning: As you might expect, this article contains some mild descriptions of wounds, body parts, and bodily functions.
I posted this story in May of 2008 on my personal blog (which I have since taken down) and on Facebook. I was reminded recently by the event of the birth of an acquaintance’s daughter under similar circumstances that this is one of the most important stories of my life. It should be told. He and his wife’s story is also worth reading. Click the tweet below and read through his story.
Madison, Alabama Mayor Election
On May 20th, 2008 (incidentally, the day after I joined Twitter), the Mayoral election was in full swing. My husband Michael had been invited to a lunch at a local steakhouse. A private party room was rented out, and candidate Paul Finley would be speaking on his candidacy. Michael invited me. I was 37 weeks pregnant, and had just recently found out that my complete placenta previa had finally moved enough that I was no longer at risk of both me and our baby dying during delivery. We already knew we were going to name her Heidi, but I was still trying to convince Michael that Heidi should be a nickname, and Adelaide, which is related, should be her full name.
I arrived at the restaurant a little late, and feeling strange. Most people were ordering steaks or heavy pasta. I’m not a picky person. I would have normally ordered something similar, but that day I just wanted something simple. I ordered chicken tenders and french fries, and I couldn’t even finish a decent portion. I was nauseated. I left early. I got home about 12:30 PM on that Tuesday afternoon. I sunk down into my office chair. I don’t remember whether I was working or not that day, but I remember that around 2 PM I suddenly became aware that I was having Braxton-Hicks contractions. They hadn’t abated by 3 PM.
I had been having strong Braxton-Hicks contractions since I was about 13 weeks pregnant, that relentless involuntary tugging of muscles I didn’t know I had before I got pregnant. They were particularly persistent that day, so I ran myself a hot bath and soaked for a while. The bath only made the contractions worse, though, and I realized I was in real labor. Within about 30 minutes of getting into the bath, the contractions were strong enough that I couldn’t speak during them.
I sent Michael, who had gone back to work, a text that I was in labor. He called me back during a break in the contractions, and I told him to come get me and take me to the hospital. I told him we probably had a few hours. When I had my first daughter, I was in labor for 6 hours. By the time Michael and I spoke on the phone, I guessed that I had been in labor for about an hour or an hour and fifteen minutes. Surely I couldn’t be too close to delivering. We hung up.
I got dressed and grabbed my bag and sat outside in the car waiting for him to get home. I couldn’t have been waiting more than 5 minutes before things got weird. The contractions’ pressure got really intense, and a new, strange pain welled up from deep underneath my uterus. It had to be the ring of fire. She was crowning. I was about to drop a kid in my Honda Pilot.
The Mess in the Bathtub
I left my bag in the car, left the car door open, and waddled back into the house. I made my way through the kitchen, thinking, “I’m about to make a big mess all over this tile! The blood will never come out of the grout.” But I couldn’t give birth on the carpet either. I thought I should do this in the bathtub. Contain all that mess where we can wash it down the drain. I stripped off my bottoms and hopped in.
I squatted on my knees in the bathtub, and leaned over the side. I reached down to see if I could feel her head. I did, and I felt my water bulging out of me like a water balloon. I grabbed it with my fingers and twisted it until it broke. Amniotic fluid flowed all over my legs and down the drain. Suddenly losing 10% of the mass inside my uterus was a very, very strange feeling.
I had two more excruciating contractions that I roared through, and her head came out. I reached down and pulled her out into my arms at 3:31 PM, after about 20 minutes of active labor. She was brand new, still trying to figure out what had just happened. She turned her head back and forth, as if she was trying to press her cheeks against the walls of the uterus she’d been living inside for 9 months. Where was it? She still hadn’t taken a breath yet. Her little face screwed up. Her whole body tensed. She flung her arms and legs out and shook. I didn’t know what to do, but she did. When she sucked in air for the first time, she was furious, but her fear and anger came out like the mew of a kitten. So little.
I sat there in the bathtub in my own blood, umbilical cord still hanging out of me, knowing Mike was on his way. I wrapped Heidi in the bottom of the red tank top I was wearing, and she quieted a little. I waited about 4 minutes, and heard him coming through the house, yelling, “Erin! Erin!”
“I’m in the bathroom!” I said. My words came out much quieter than I expected them to. I was shaking with shock. He walked into the bathroom with the phone pressed up against his ear. He had called 911 and was still on the phone with them.
“There you are!” He said. “Whoa, what’s all that blood!” He exclaimed. “Whoa! There’s a baby!” He just stared at me. The 911 operator was trying to give him instructions to cut the cord, but he was so freaked out that he couldn’t process them. He was relaying to me the instructions as if I could just hop up and perform them myself.
I am trying to say “Find a barrette in the drawer,” but my tongue and mouth keep getting all twisted up.
The 911 operator tells him to find a shoelace. He looks down at one shoe. “I don’t have any shoelaces!” He looks around, in the cabinet, and then at the other shoe. “I still don’t have any shoelaces!”
Getting to the Hospital
All of a sudden there are firefighters in the bathroom. I don’t remember how that happened, but I am suddenly very aware that these men were looking at me, and I have no bottoms on. It was very much like that dream where you realize you’ve come to school naked. Except that this is really happening right now.
They’re holding their hands out to help me out of the tub, and I’m just shaking my head. I’m not standing up with no bottoms on. I’m going to leave bloody footprints all over the bathroom and bedroom carpet. They’d brought in a gurney, and they kind of push me onto it. They wrap Heidi up in one of our dark purple bathroom towels. I am so relieved it wouldn’t stain the towels. They declare that her time of birth was 3:36 PM. No, it wasn’t. It was 3:31 PM. I can’t tell them.
They roll me out of the house into the ambulance. I’m “yelling” at Michael (as best I can muster) to get the car seat, get my bag, Tru’s at daycare. Call someone. I have to go pick Tru up from daycare. We’re going to get charged a $5 fee if I’m late. My neighbor is on her front porch watching all this unfold. I wave at her with a stupid grin on my face. HELLO I’M FINE!
They turn up the heater in the ambulance. I’m burning up. My blood pressure is 100/25, he says. Intravenous fluids. Ok. Where’s my baby? Give her to me! I can’t think. They won’t give me my baby. The paramedic is holding her and says I can’t have her back until we get to the hospital.
We’re driving 60 miles an hour down Highway 72 toward the hospital, which is 13 miles away. Why are we driving so fast? Everything exciting has already happened. We hit a bump and the placenta delivers itself. Gross.
When we finally made it to the hospital, someone took the first photo of Heidi.
When we finally made it to the room, they dropped a bombshell on us. Heidi, 40 minutes old, will have to be quarantined in one of those sealed warming beds for 48 hours because she was born in a non-sterile environment. Michael was furious. I can take a bath in the tub and then come to the hospital without being quarantined. She didn’t even touch the tub. He demanded to know why. It’s policy. “Where? Show us the policy. Is it the law?” They left and discussed it amongst themselves for a while. They either couldn’t find the policy or couldn’t be bothered to even look for it. They backed down and let her come back in the room with us.
My OB/GYN told me I was her first patient ever to give birth before making it to the hospital. The hospital bill was about half of what it was with our first daughter. They couldn’t charge me for the work I did myself!
I never did convince Michael to name her Adelaide with the nickname Heidi. I did assert to him that I would be choosing her middle name by myself since I did all the birthing alone. She is Heidi Annora.
Eventually, the insurance company would try to fight us about covering the cost of the ambulance ride. They were under the impression that we’d attempted a homebirth and bailed out. Medical-professional-assisted homebirths are illegal in Alabama, and unassisted homebirths are too much of a liability for the insurance company to condone or cover. After some explaining by us and jaw-dropping on their part, they realized that it was accidental, and they covered the costs.
Our wonderful neighbor came over to the house while we were at the hospital. We never even saw the mess. She later told us that it took hours to scrub the dried blood out of the bathtub. The carpet got cleaned. I still have the shirt I was wearing that I wrapped Heidi in to keep her warm. (I washed it.)
Heidi’s birth certificate is pretty interesting. In the “Place of birth” field, our home address sticks out like a sore thumb. If I recall, Tru’s says “Huntsville Hospital.” Where Tru’s birth certificate lists the name of my OB/GYN under “Attendant,” Heidi’s says “mother only.” And of course, her time of birth is off by five minutes.
My physical recovery from the birth was leagues faster than from my first daughter’s birth. Being induced the first time and being given heavy pain medications made the delivery harder, and it made me push harder without any natural feedback to stop me from bearing down too hard. It took me 8 months to recover from Tru’s birth. This time, I had minimal tearing and was back to my old self in about a month.
Heidi turned out to be the most laid-back, content baby I’ve ever met. I like to think that her remarkable entrance into the world can’t be topped. She got through that, so she can get through anything.
A few years after my accidental homebirth, the wife of a coworker of mine gave birth in their mini-van on the side of the highway. She was also a patient of my OB/GYN, the second patient she’d ever had to ever give birth before making it to the hospital. Our doctor says that if either of us get pregnant again, she’s putting us up in a hotel across the street from the hospital.
Paul Finley won the mayoral election.