Holding Onto Gratefulness: When My Planned Home Birth Moved to the Hospital
Hello, readers! April here. Today, for Birth Story Sunday, I have a special guest post for you. This is written by Marina Parker, one of my dearest friends. We have known each other since elementary school, and we have many similar passions. These include New Kids on the Block, late-night emotional eating and procrastinating when it’s time to pack for a trip. Also, home birth. An eclectic mix, I know. Marina is honest and hilarious. Please enjoy her story!
The first summer Matt and I were married, in 2004, we went on a vacation to the beach with my family. My older sister was pregnant with her first, and my uncle — my mom’s younger brother — and his wife had two little girls. They were around 2 and 6 years old.
Long after the rest of us were done playing with the little ones, Matt was still in the pool, making them giggle, playing shark or tossing them up in the air. I knew then he would make an incredible father.
Learning to delight ourselves in the Lord
Fast forward seven years into marriage, and we were still childless. I can’t say we were angry or worried, but we sought out the counsel of our pastor. Were we even supposed to have kids? Was there anything wrong with just being the cool aunt and uncle, taking vacations to adult-only resorts and always having a clean house?
Our pastor listened to us babble on and on. In fact, he was late to his own daughters’ watch night in their dance class when he finally said, “Listen, I am not going to tell you to go down the fertility path or to just forget about having a family. I am going to tell you the best advice I have, and that is Psalm 37:4.”
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
If I am being completely honest, I left his office totally ticked off. I remember telling Matt that I had memorized that verse at church camp years ago and never really understood what it meant. How do you “delight yourself in the Lord”? What a cop-out! I felt no more directed on what in the world we were supposed to do than when we walked into our pastor’s office.
Nonetheless, we took a month to fast and pray over “the desires of our hearts” and, as we headed off on an adult vacation to Napa Valley, we sent in an application to start the adoption process. I desired to be a mother, and Matt desired to be a father. While we certainly pass no judgment on those who have chosen to medically investigate their infertility, it was simply not something we wanted. To us, a family was family regardless of how it came together.
Becoming parents through adoption
Eighteen months later in November 2012, we were the proud parents of Shanbu David Parker, a precious 5-year-old boy from Ethiopia. Six months after that, we welcomed 8-year-old Kalkidan Ruth Parker home from Ethiopia. We call her Kali.
Life was a little hectic but full of love. I took a break from working outside the home to focus on our new family and homeschooling.
Our desire was for a bigger family, but for a few years the four of us found a rhythm that was fun. We made a big move from Ohio to Texas in 2016, and my heart yearned for more children.
I reached out to our adoption agency, and we entered the India program to start the process of adopting twin girls, which fell through. We remained in the program, though, because we knew we wanted more children.
Longing for a ‘leap’ in my womb
While I never felt like I had to look at my children and see our genes, I couldn’t shake the feeling of wanting to experience the sensations of pregnancy. Every time I read the passage in the Bible about Elizabeth feeling John “leap” in her womb, I wondered what that felt like.
But I did not want to start down the long and winding road of a fertility workup. I confided in two friends and sought their advice and thoughts on how to proceed.
Anyone who knows me knows I am not organized. Checking and charting my temperature daily? No thanks. Consistency of cervical mucous? Eh. Even charting sex; it sounded so technical and unsexy. I just wanted to wake up one day, take a pregnancy test and be surprised. Was that SO much to ask?
In January 2018, I downloaded an app on my phone and made a half-hearted attempt at tracking my wonky menstrual cycle, sex and feelings. I gave up about a week later.
I opted instead to start a late training for the Cowtown Half Marathon, a race Matt and I had run together the year before. This was my first solo running event, and I was totally stoked. Matt’s parents traveled to Fort Worth for the race, and his dad ran the 5K with the kids the day before the half.
I remember telling Matt’s mom I was feeling premenstrual, but my period never came, which I attributed to the extra running. By early March though, I was late, even for me.
Going from Target to two lines
During a trip to Target, I blurted out to Matt that I needed to buy a pregnancy test. Now, I could buy an island with the amount of money I have spent on pregnancy tests throughout the years. And, if I really thought I was pregnant, I would not have told Matt we needed to get a test randomly in the middle of my favorite superstore.
I figured I would take the test, it would be negative and I would start my period the next day. Classic. In fact, I stood there and stared at all of those boxes with their two lines and easy-read windows and thought, “This is so stupid.” We bought one anyway and ventured home fully expecting to be disappointed.
Maybe now is a good time to mention I was 37, and we had been married for 14 years. I took the test and called Matt into the bathroom. We both stared at that stick, the box and then each other. There were definitely two lines.
Shocked is the understatement of a lifetime. We stared in disbelief and decided to take the second test in the morning. I don’t think either of us slept that night. The morning test confirmed I was indeed pregnant.
If you know Matt at all, you know he cannot help himself when it comes to good news. Bless his heart — he wanted to shout it from the rooftop! We immediately told our families and friends, and Matt went ahead and shared our news with anyone who would listen: Baristas, random people at the gym and the like.
I made an appointment with a local OB/GYN, and we began looking for a bigger living space to accommodate our growing family.
Yearning for a birth that felt like home
My first appointment with the OB was pretty standard. Having worked as a physician assistant in family practice for more than 10 years, I knew what to expect: Pee in a cup, a quick ultrasound and some bloodwork. I liked the doctor well enough.
At our next appointment we saw the PA, who was also fine. Another ultrasound, more labs and I was on my way.
Yet, something tugged at my heart. I wanted more than just these quick interactions. As a healthcare provider, I prided myself on taking an interest in my patients. I wanted them to feel at home, like I was a friend. The OB had yet to even touch my body — my body that was growing another body!
I began to think about delivery and how I always disliked hospitals. When I went through my clinical year of PA school, I never felt comfortable in the hospital. I disliked wearing scrubs. I hated surgery.
My first job as a PA was in a rural family practice. Intending to stay just long enough to find a job closer to home, I found myself falling in love with this sleepy Ohio town. The supervising physician taught me much about caring for patients, including the importance of taking time to listen to and learn from them, rather than just ordering a bunch of useless tests. I can still see him holding a stethoscope up to his patient’s chest and closing his eyes to focus on what he was hearing. He was intuitive and gentle, but he knew when to take action.
A few months into my first year in the clinic, the doctor asked me to start rounding in several nursing homes where he served as the medical director. Reluctantly, I spent every Thursday seeing patients in nursing homes and post-op rehab. I fell in love with these folks and their sweet rooms decorated to feel like home.
As I reflected on these memories, I began to think I wanted to give birth somewhere that felt like home.
Preparing for what my body was made to do
Just a few months before I found out I was pregnant, one of my oldest and dearest friends gave birth in her own home. I started by peppering her with questions about what it was like to have a home birth.
Her advice was to educate myself about my options. So, I spent many nights watching — and crying — through home birth videos. During the afternoons, I read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.
Matt and I had multiple conversations about what we wanted in our birthing experience. I began to research and interview midwives. After my 20-week anatomy ultrasound at the OB, I decided not to return to that office and to switch my care over to a Certified Professional Midwife.
We had an instant connection with Christy, and I could tell she was just what I wanted in a healthcare provider: A person who listens and seeks to understand the desires of her patient.
Our appointments were full of flowing conversation, with Christy answering questions and taking the time to touch and listen to my body and baby. There was never doom-and-gloom talk about my age and the “increased” risk of this and that. I felt comfortable, at ease and excited to allow my body to do what it was made to do.
We rented a birth pool, enrolled in a home birth class and began the process of ordering and organizing home birth supplies. My mom’s airline ticket was booked, and she was ready to hang with the big kids while I was in labor. We also hired a photographer and videographer to document our journey.
My pregnancy was textbook. Staying active and eating well were important to me. After learning some exercises in our home birth class, I was diligent in doing yoga poses every evening and rebozo sifting every night when Matt was in town. My Pinterest board was full of encouraging words and ideas to keep me motivated during an unmedicated birth. I visualized myself laboring in our shower, on our deck and in our hallway.
Matt worked on a birth playlist. I told him I wanted to hear music that evoked memories, things I could reflect upon and think about when labor was getting intense. We scheduled maternity photos for my 37th week of pregnancy, and things were coming together nicely.
Gushing fluid and letting go
Heading into that week, however, I began to experience some gushes of fluid. I knew I was not peeing, but it was more moisture than one cares for in her panties.
On Monday I called Christy, and she offered to come over with some sticks to detect whether I was leaking amniotic fluid. The initial swabs were inconclusive, so Christy left me one and instructed me to test the fluid when I experienced a gush that was literally running down my leg.
I texted Christy a picture of the swab at 3:47, knowing it turned the color we did not want. We made a plan to head over to the hospital for a confirmatory test that I was indeed leaking fluid. I was 37 weeks pregnant on the nose.
Laying in the hospital bed, already hooked up to a blood pressure cuff and fetal monitor and wearing a scratchy hospital gown, the tears started. If you know me and have seen me cry, you are in my circle of trust. I am not a crier, especially in front of people.
Letting go of my home birth plan was truly one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I knew I couldn’t waste a ton of time dwelling on it, though. I was in the hospital, and I was about to birth our son. There was not time for feeling sorry for myself.
Surrendering to a hospital birth
That evening at about 9:30, a balloon was inserted in my cervix to dilate me to four centimeters. From there, we would make decisions about Pitocin and all the things I did not want. I sent Matt home to rest, finish laundry and be with the big kids, knowing that he could be back at the hospital in five minutes if things were moving along and I needed him.
Around 1:30 a.m., the balloon came out. I was not feeling much action, so we decided I would rest until 6 a.m. When I woke up, I was about 80 percent effaced and 4-5 centimeters, so we decided I would alternate brisk walking and using the breast pump to try to get labor going naturally.
Still feeling little in the way of contractions, I hopped in the shower to freshen up, and Matt arrived back to the hospital around 9 a.m. with the kiddos. About 10 a.m., the hospital midwife broke my water and started Pitocin shortly after that. (The initial leak had been high, and the rest of the amniotic sac had stayed intact.) Contractions were still inconsistent and felt like menstrual cramps but not unbearable.
At noon, they increased the Pitocin, and a half hour later I was feeling like I wanted to hold my breath when I had a contraction. By 1:30, I was ready for Christy to be with me and had texted our photographers to head over. From then on I was done with my phone and could only focus on labor. Matt took the big kids to the cafeteria for some food and then set them up in the waiting room. Labor was intensifying.
For most of my labor, I was sitting on the toilet. So unsexy and not what I expected, but that is just where I felt most comfortable. I am a nervous pooper anyway, but I was shocked at how much I went for as little food was going into my body.
Because my water had been technically been broken for more than 24 hours, I was not allowed to labor in the pool, but I could labor in the shower, which felt nice. The exercise ball felt terrible. Lying on my side with the peanut ball between my knees was excruciating.
Everything I tried I hated except for sitting on the toilet. Matt would occasionally pop his head into the bathroom and tell me which song was playing. I kept thinking to myself that the birth video was going to be awful because there was nothing to record while I was sitting on the toilet.
Around the time the midwives were switching shifts, I felt like I had to pee so badly but could not. There was talk of a catheter, but Christy, my home birth midwife, suggested they check me first before placing the catheter. When the midwife checked me, she surprisingly said, “She is ready to go!” Lights came out of the ceiling, a bunch of people came in and the next thing I knew I was pushing.
A lot of women talk about the satisfaction of pushing. My experience was not what I would call satisfaction. First of all, I was still pooping! Normal, I know, but I was not thrilled. They told me to stop trying to hold it in.
All I could think about was my friend April’s experience when I felt like he was going back up instead of coming out. I was hot and bothered. I wanted him out, and I wanted to be done.
In reality I pushed for maybe an hour, but it felt much longer than that. Christy told me to reach down and touch my son’s head, to which I replied, “I don’t want to!” At 7:41 p.m. on October 16, 2018, Gamaliel H Allan Parker entered this big beautiful world. We call him Gama.
Reflecting on my hospital birth experience
My hospital experience was not a negative one. While I did not want Pitocin or to deliver in a sterile hospital bed, the midwives and nurses at the hospital honored my desires for an unmedicated birth. I was not hooked up to the fetal monitor the entire time, and I was allowed to move around, get in the shower, listen to music and give my body the freedom and space to do what it was made to do.
However, my hospital room unfortunately smelled like cheap Band-Aids, and I had to have an IV. They drew my blood to confirm my blood type, which was already confirmed. But hospitals have their ways, and I was not in a position to challenge that. Matt and Christy were there to advocate for me, so I was not having to make decisions in the midst of a contraction.
Aside from the side lying and the pushing, it really wasn’t that bad. I could (and hope to) do it again, hopefully at home.
When I finally got home two days after the birth and saw the birth pool still in its box in my living room, the tears came again. Why couldn’t my body cooperate? Why the fluid leak? Why did I have to let go of my desires? Yes, Gama and I were healthy, and I was happy about that, but it was sad and difficult to process what might have been.
Living those crazy newborn days (or that newborn daze)
Newborn days and nights were just plain crazy. My mom stayed with us for five weeks after Gama was born. THANK GOODNESS because I needed her.
If I lived near you when you had a baby and I didn’t at least bring you dinner, I am sorry. I should have made you gourmet food, did your laundry and scrubbed your baseboards.
Although Kali and Shanbu were older when they came home, would you believe not a single person brought us a meal as we were settling in to becoming a family? I do not say that to make anyone feel bad. Admittedly, I would have probably said no had someone asked us if they could bring us dinner.
Following Gama’s birth, our gracious church family provided our family with nearly a month of meals, and it was an incredible blessing. Sometimes, in the midst of something so new, we do not even know what we need. A random loaf of banana bread can go a long way. So consider your friends and neighbors, and remember that the occasion does not always have to be a death or a birth.
Choosing gratitude over grumpiness
I sit here finishing this just a week before Gama’s first birthday. Countless times I have pulled out my laptop to write only to be interrupted by the baby, a homeschool question, my desire to nap or a bitter thought from not experiencing the home birth I planned. If I have learned anything this past year, it has been to choose gratitude over grumpiness.
I know this is long. Thank you for sticking with me and reading about our journey. If you have 13 more minutes, you can watch our beautiful birth video, which is G-rated.
The second song in the video, “Hand to Hold” by JJ Heller, makes me cry every time I hear it. My favorite line says, “Every day you’re changing, sometimes I wish it wasn’t true. Hearts were made for giving, I’ve given mine to you.”
The truth is, this is how I feel about motherhood. It is moving fast. Sometimes I want it to slow down. But my kids have my heart, and my heart is grateful.
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