While scrolling through Instagram the past few weeks, I have seen several stories of planned hospital births turning into accidental home births or planned home births turning into accidental unassisted home births. I’m not surprised this is happening. COVID-19 has seemed to turn the world upside-down, including how care providers are working with their pregnant and laboring patients.
I think babies and bodies are wise and often do what they feel like is the safest thing for them, no matter what our brains have to say in the matter. Sometimes it seems like the easiest births are the ones where the brain finally took a hike and let the body do what it knows how to do. Since I’ve noticed an uptick in accidental unassisted home births during this quarantine (could be my imagination?), I thought I’d share my experience with having an accidental unassisted home birth in hopes that it might help someone.
My third baby was born at home just minutes before the midwife arrived. This was not part of the plan, but I had a funny feeling throughout my pregnancy that I should be at least a tiny bit prepared for the possibility. Just in case. After all, I did have a history of fast labors. But still, I didn’t think it would REALLY happen. A small part of me hoped it would, but it was more like, “Maybe I’ll just sneeze and the baby will fall out quickly, effortlessly, and painlessly.” Ha! A person can dream, right?
I had heard of accidental unassisted home births before. Of course, I had heard of unassisted home births done on purpose as well. I don’t have the confidence and knowledge to give birth without the watchful and experienced eyes of a professional midwife, so that was never part of my plan. And I thought those people who had accidental unassisted home births were lying. They’d done it on purpose. They called the midwife too late on purpose because they secretly wanted to have an unassisted home birth. Talk about having to eat a big slice of humble pie because I totally did NOT call the midwife too late on purpose. (Actually, I never got around to calling anyone. That was my dear husband calling because he was scared. And if he’d waited for me to know for sure that it was time to call, we would have been alone much longer.)
The last several weeks before my due date, I asked my midwife what I should do just in case the baby came before she arrived. We covered what I should do in case of a shoulder dystocia and hemorrhage. We talked a little bit about what to do if my baby was born not breathing, but we planned to cover that in more detail once she was back from her vacation. My baby had strict orders to STAY IN until my midwife got back into the country. I purchased (as a joke) a laminated sheet from In His Hands Birth Supply called When Baby Arrives Before the Midwife. My midwife sent me her version of what to do in case my baby came before she arrived. I’d taught about the very basics of what to do in my childbirth classes. I was as prepared as I possibly could be for such a situation, but I still didn’t think it would REALLY happen.
The day arrived, and it REALLY happened. My favorite labor coping technique, denial, got me through yet another labor. Except this time, it worked TOO well. I didn’t realize I was actually in labor until maybe 20 minutes before my baby arrived. Until that point, I thought I was having cramps, and I thought they’d go away. Oops.
For me, having an accidental home birth was a fairly nonchalant experience until the very end. For most of my labor, I wasn’t sure if I was in actual labor. I was uncomfortable, but having had two natural births before, I was familiar with what real labor contractions felt like. Or so I thought. I kept waiting to feel actual labor contractions. Then, and only then, would I feel like it was time to get in touch with the midwife. (Who was the back-up midwife- I was still hoping my baby would wait until my midwife got back into town.)
When I finally got uncomfortable enough with the cramps to get into the shower, another one of my favorite labor coping techniques, my husband had thankfully called both the back-up midwife and the doula, and they were on their way. I started crying and getting scared about when “real labor” was going to start, because these cramps were no joke. I was relieved that everyone was on their way, so I decided to try to relax as much as possible and see how much progress I could make before they all arrived.
I took a huge breath in, and thought, “relaaaaaaaaxxxxx….” as I breathed out slowly. I felt the baby descend what felt like four or five inches! The power of that sensation brought me to my hands and knees. My body seemed to be curling in around itself during the next few contractions. This happened so quickly. I transitioned from being scared about the cramps to not thinking about anything anymore in just a few contractions.
Suddenly, my water broke. I took note that the amniotic fluid had a greenish tint to it while screaming, “My water broke!” I felt a burning sensation down below, so I reached down and felt the top of my baby’s head. I think I screamed, “It’s coming out! Help me!” I hadn’t felt afraid for my life before that moment, but in that moment feeling my baby’s head with no one around to help me except for my husband, I really thought I was about to die with a baby half-hanging out of me. I made my peace with God. It wasn’t anything fancy. I think I just thought, “This is it. This is how it happens. Oh well.”
And thankfully, right at that moment, my doula arrived, placed her hand on my back, and said, “I’m here.” My fear melted away. It felt like it took forever, but I pushed my baby out with all of my might. I may not have needed to push so hard, but I had been scared of shoulder dystocia, and for some reason, it made sense to me in that moment to give it all I had.
My baby came out and seemed like he was kind of gray/blue, so I was held him upright over my shoulder and rubbed him up and down along his spine. I was not and am not really trained in neonatal resuscitation (even though I’ve taken a training since then, there’s no way I feel like I could REALLY help in that situation), but my instincts told me to hold him up and rub his back so that he wouldn’t choke on his own amniotic fluid that may have still been in his lungs. He started to pink up and make a bit of noise when the midwife and her assistant showed up with oxygen. He got a few seconds of air while I rubbed on him, but he didn’t need any extra help.
Everything happened so quickly that I was in shock. At the time, it felt like I had no idea what just happened to me. One minute I was pregnant and thinking that my cramps would go away, and the next I was holding my baby.
Full disclosure, I felt both traumatized by the experience, especially for the first few days afterward, and proud of my body for doing such an incredible thing. I was so thankful to still be alive because I really thought it was the end for both myself and my baby for a few long and terrifying seconds. It seemed like it took days for the two of us to catch our breath.
If I were to share advice from my experience, it would be this:
- Be prepared for ANYTHING if you are having a second (or more) baby.
- Ask your care provider what to do in this situation, even if you are 99% sure that you will not experience this.
- Repetition helps. Have this conversation with your care provider several times before labor.
- Practice visualizing what you would do in this situation several times before labor.
- Talk it through with another person several times so that you know the steps well enough to explain them to another person.
I have heard that babies who come so quickly, such as those that are born on the side of the road or in the hallway of the hospital, are perfectly aligned and ready. They are usually born perfectly healthy. And at the risk of tempting the birth gods, I’ve only heard happy stories of crazy fast births like that, but I am still going to say USUALLY. Just in case.