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A Baby Story: Forging My Own Birth Plan

This is for Melissa, my sweet office manager, who just had her baby 10 weeks ago, and for all the moms-to-be who want to know about an alternative birth plan to the traditional hospital delivery.

If the thought of giving birth in a hospital doesn’t sit well with you, I understand. When I had Baby Elvis two years ago, I considered the traditional medical route of rushing to the hospital and giving birth surrounded by medical professionals, but as I researched my options, I found a different route that worked best for us.

my birth story

The beginning of my pregnancy felt like a whirlwind. Baby Elvis was a honeymoon baby, conceived on a wild night in Ubud, Bali. Soon after the honeymoon, I didn’t feel like myself, and my staff noticed that I was moody. When the pregnancy test came back positive, my husband, DJ, was thrilled. Me? Not so much. I needed time to adjust.

I did what moms-to-be do all the time: I chose an OB/GYN, but there was something about her that didn’t click with me. When I told her at my 20-week ultrasound that I was pounding carbs—bagels and croissants—she told me that she wanted me to gain only 25 to 30 pounds for the entire pregnancy, so I should make sure to get enough exercise. I asked for some nutritional guidelines on how to grow the healthiest baby possible, but she just said, “If you get constipated, take Mucilax.” Um, that’s not nutritional advice!

So, I looked for guidance in “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth,” a midwife’s practical advice for natural childbirth. But my OB was less than impressed by my research. She said, “If you do a home birth, I will not be your backup.”

At 30 weeks, I toured hospitals and soon discovered that I did not want to give birth there. I saw groups of doctors and residents making rounds in labor and delivery, and women laboring with no privacy. The intercom blared into the new mothers’ rooms, making me wonder how you can breathe your way through contractions with all that commotion. Worst of all, the whole place smelled like cheeseburgers to my sensitive pregnant nose.

So I looked into transferring to a birthing center associated with New York-Presbyterian, but they don’t take transfers after 20 weeks. I started to panic.

I looked into using a midwife for a home birth, one in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn. I interviewed both and chose the Brooklyn-based midwife, in part because their insurance expert seemed on the ball. I told my midwife about my fears of feeling pain during birth and asked if I would get transferred to the hospital if it was too much for me. She raised her eyebrows and said, “Oh honey. My clients don’t get transferred for that reason.”

She explained that she creates an emergency plan for transfer to the nearest hospital, or, if there’s time, to a hospital in New Jersey that welcomes homebirth midwives but doesn’t give epidurals for pain. I knew I had to wrap my head around the idea that my body was meant to do this without intervention.

At 35 weeks, Baby Elvis started to show signs of his stubbornness by sitting breech. I took time off from work to get daily acupuncture, did Webster Technique, and devoured content on to try to invert the baby. We tried four external cephalic versions (turning) and a uterine relaxer at a local hospital, but that was a nightmare.

In the elevator, a nurse asked where I was headed and when I told her I was there for an external version, she told me to just get a C-section because an external version will break the baby’s neck, which is complete nonsense. The procedure’s risks include squeezing the umbilical cord, reducing blood flow and oxygen to the baby. But with ultrasound monitoring, that risk is low. Nobody’s getting a broken neck.

During the procedure, I had eight nurses surrounding me. I tried to relax as a doctor turned the baby, but it was hard to do in that circus. It didn’t work, but it served as validation that I did not want to give birth in a hospital.

I did more research and found a practice in New Jersey that would perform spinal anesthesia and provide a uterine relaxer to help turn Baby Elvis upside-down, with his head toward the birth canal. He was flipped and I waited a very long 30 seconds, staring at the ceiling, waiting to hear the heartbeat. No heartbeat would mean fetal distress and a C-section. I prayed to God to avoid the C-section and to make my baby okay.

Then, we heard a heartbeat! But the ultrasound showed that part of the umbilical cord was stuck below his head. If my water broke and he descended into the birth canal, the cord would compress, blocking my baby’s supply of blood and oxygen, and we’d need emergency care. That could mean someone shoving their hands up there to press the baby’s weight off the umbilical cord.

So, we waited in the hospital, being monitored. For six hours, we waited to see if Baby Elvis would shift off the umbilical cord, but he didn’t. We were sent home for the night, taking care to avoid all the potholes on New York City streets so my water wouldn’t break along the way. The next day, we got an ultrasound. Turns out, Baby Elvis had moved his foot—along with the umbilical cord. He was in the clear!

My water broke on my birthday, January 10th, and for the next 24 hours, nothing happened. If I had gone to a hospital, I would have been induced and possibly had a C-section. But at home, an acupuncturist came over to give the most intense acupuncture of my life, spinning needles every minute on the minute to spur contractions. It was a painful, sweaty experience. I shouted at DJ to turn off the college football national championship on TV. (His first sacrifice in the name of fatherhood was to miss his beloved Alabama’s championship win. Roll Tide!)
At midnight, we called our doula. At 2 a.m., we called our midwife. When I asked her to check to see if it’s time to push, she gave me a shot of herbs, including skullcap and valerian root, and for the next four hours, I pretty much slept through contractions. Then I got on my hands and knees in the shower, on the toilet, and in bed, shaking my hips side to side and moaning loudly. Amazingly, none of our neighbors called the police.

At 8 a.m., the midwife checked my dilation and gave me two choices: push downstairs in the bathtub and recover on our brand-new Calvin Klein couch that’s on a brand-new silk rug, or get in bed. I pushed for an hour, thinking, Why the f— am I doing a home birth if I am on my back in bed pushing?

Around 9 a.m., Baby Elvis was born. I passed him to DJ, who sang, “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” while I prepared to pass the placenta, saying, “Oh God, oh God, oh God!” Twenty minutes later, still no placenta, possibly because I’d had a subchorionic hematoma, which is an accumulation of blood near the placenta, at 21 weeks. Maybe there was scar tissue, but if it wouldn’t come out on its own, we’d have to dig it out.

The midwife called 911 for an emergent transfer and five EMTs showed up in my bedroom, where I was naked on the bed, and put me in a white bathrobe and then onto a stretcher. They told us to leave the baby at home with DJ and the doula, and I was rushed to the ER and then transferred to Labor & Delivery, alone.

A nurse there took one look at the amount of blood I’d let out and said, “Oh Jesus!” I was given an epidural and signed a waiver saying that if they punctured my uterus during a D & C to suck out the placenta, I would need a C-section to repair it.

I had done all that I could to avoid a C-section, and now I could have one AFTER the baby was born!

I got some anti-anxiety meds to relax my uterus, and a wonderful team of women got the placenta out without surgery. I was back home with DJ and the baby by dinnertime.

For the next two days, I was on an oxytocin high and yet, I felt like I’d been hit by a bus. Pure absolute baby joy fueled me. Love like you’ve never felt before. It was incredible.

So for all the moms-to-be who think a hospital birth is the only way to go, know that there is another way. I’d do it that way again, even despite the emergent transfer. I just dug deep, knowing that so many women before me had done the same thing.

No one tells you that you’re practicing squats for birth, or to bear down and push out your butt during birth! So, moms-to-be, push that baby out and breathe! Most of all though, choose the birth that’s best for you and your baby.

If you need help with your birth plan or want to know other options in the New York City area feel free to reach out, or call 212-355-0445. We also offer BIRTHFIT workshops as Dr Emily Kiberd is the regional director for Upper Manhattan.