People ask me all the time how I got into midwifery. Like many midwives, I got into midwifery because of the births of my own children.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would grow up to be a midwife. I was raised in a middle class, mainstream, divorced family home with no knowledge of natural birth. My dad was a commercial airline pilot, and my mother changed careers many times but spent most of her career in sales before becoming a writer later in life. I grew up on mac and cheese, packaged Little Debbies, anti-biotics, vaccines, and a high regard for modern medicine. Words like natural, organic, holistic, herbal remedies, and midwifery were not in my family’s vocabulary. I also grew up deathly afraid of birth. My mother recounted her birth stories with horror. She literally said she thought she would rather face a firing squad again than go through the torture she experienced. Her first three children were born in the late 60s, early 70s and she was left alone in the hospital tied to a bed with no drugs, and given no support on how to cope. She told me her third child was stuck and that the doctors stated they may have to break her pelvis before he was finally born. Then I came along in 1976, her last child, and she was offered the new “magic epidural”. She said it was wonderful. My dad was out of town for the birth flying and she drove herself to the hospital.
So when I got pregnant at age 27, I knew I would have an epidural. That was all I knew. All of my friends that had gotten pregnant before me had done the same. Except one of my high school friends told me she had a natural birth. I remember thinking she was crazy and could not fathom why she would do that. I had also met a girl through my husband who said she had her baby at home with a midwife. That was the first time I had ever heard of home birth and at the time I was truly horrified by the thought. So being the typical mainstream young woman that I was, I picked the largest baby factory hospital around and a large practice of rotating obstetricians.
Like most first time moms, I was extremely inpatient about having my baby and thought for sure I was going to have her early. I even went to the hospital after several bouts of ‘contractions’ and losing my mucous plug at 36 weeks. They told me I was 2 cm, kept me overnight for monitoring, and sent me on my way. At my 38 week appointment, my blood pressure was slightly elevated and I had a lot of swelling in my feet overnight. They sent me over to the hospital for monitoring and more tests, stating that I may being developing Preeclampsia. At the hospital, once they had me on the monitors they stated I was having contractions 3 minutes apart (though I was not really feeling them), that my cervix was 3 cm, and that I was going to stay and have the baby. I was excited and ready to meet her so there was no argument from me. My only disappointment is that they would not let me eat the food we had just picked up on the way to the hospital and I was starving.
So they broke my water and we waited for the contractions to get stronger. At the next check they said I was 5 cm and that I better go ahead and get the epidural because the anesthesiologist was around and if I wait too long, he might be tied up with surgery. I wasn’t even in pain and but I got it because I was terrified of not getting it later. So I laid in bed for hours while they eventually added Pitocin because things had naturally slowed down after the epidural and being in bed, though at the time I was very ignorant about birth and didn’t know any of the risks of induction, epidurals, being immobile, etc. Finally that evening I was complete, but after 3 hours of pushing, and 3 pulls of the vacuum, they informed me that she was stuck in a posterior position and I would need a c-section. My daughter was born via c-section at 1:05 am, weighing in at 7 lbs, 4 oz. She was a gorgeous newborn with lots of dark hair, though she had a terrible cone head and an open wound on her head from the vacuum. It took me about 45 minutes to finally get her into my arms once they moved us to recovery and I was instantly in love.
After the c-section, I was disappointed but I tried not to focus on it much. I remember being in mommy groups with my newborn while they all told their birth stories and I felt bad when it was my turn to say I had a c-section. Why couldn’t I birth my baby like they did? I was average build and my babies were not big. My mother and her sisters all had several children and none of them had to have c-sections. While it did bother me, I also knew I wasn’t alone as several friends and cousins had already had c-sections too.
I didn’t put much thought into it until I was pregnant the next time around. At this point I had assumed I would have a repeat c-section because that is what everyone I knew had after having c-sections. I still hadn’t even heard much about VBAC except rumors of them being dangerous. However, I was scared to have another c-section because I also had a major complication with my first one where a portion of the placenta was retained, resulting in a uterine infection. I ended up hemorrhaging, spending another week in the hospital getting IV antibiotics, and had to have a blood transfusion and D&C.
During my second pregnancy, we had moved to another state and I pick a female OB in private practice based on someone’s recommendation and it was actually her idea that I have a VBAC! She stated I was a good candidate and there wasn’t any reason I couldn’t have a trial of labor. Then I got excited and finally decided to do some research that I should have done long ago. As I researched, my eyes were opened. I finally learned so much about induction risks, epidural risk, being active in labor, doulas and more. Then to my terrified dismay at the time, I discovered I might have a better chance of having a vaginal birth if I did it without drugs so that I could be upright and active…Oh the horror! I didn’t think I could do it. I am the biggest wuss I know. I decided to hire a doula and figured I would give it a shot, all knowing in the back of my head if I couldn’t take the pain I could ask for the epidural.
At 39 ½ weeks I woke up at 4:00 am to very strong contractions. I had been having contractions at night for weeks as I drove my doula nuts with false alarm calls. She kept telling me I will know and that it probably wasn’t time. She wasn’t kidding. That morning I think I had two contractions and I knew it was different. I had just been checked a couple days before and was already 5 cm so they told me it could come on fast. And it did. I immediately woke up my husband and said it was time to go the hospital. Well he did not believe me after the many nights before I had thought I was in labor. But I knew this time it was no joke and things were happening fast. We finally made our way into the car and to the hospital. Once there, I thought I was dying. My doula was at another birth and said she would have to send a back-up. The nurse checked me and as she did my water ruptured all over the bed and she said I was 7 cm. I immediately told the nurses that I needed to get into the tub which had been my plan all along and they laughed and said “You’re a VBAC, you can’t get in tub”. Oh no, now what?! That had been my main plan all along because I had heard it helped a lot with the pain. Meanwhile, my husband who still thought we had a long ways to go was off getting coffee while I was strapped in bed with the monitors thinking I was going to die. I kept trying to get up out of bed but every time that I did the monitors would not pick up the heartbeat and the nurses would freak out saying "We have to monitor the baby". That was it, I had to have an epidural. My husband laughed and said I thought you are not getting it and I thought I would punch him. I cussed him out quickly and begged the nurse for one. The nurses quickly complied calling the anesthesiologist. My back-up doula was still not there to try to talk me out of it. Once the back-up doula arrived, she saw they were setting up for the epidural. She was a stranger and did not try to change my mind and it wouldn’t have matter if she tried because my mind was made up. At this point I was feeling tons of pressure in my rectum that was unbearable but at the time I didn’t realize that meant my baby was going to be born very soon! I was in transition but didn’t realize it and feared I had many hours to go.
As soon as the epidural was in, the doctor came and told me I was 10 cm and could start pushing. The epidural was still not working (probably because it was given so late). I was flat on back and couldn’t calm down. The nurse handed me a cord with a button and said I could push it for more epidural medication to be administered which I immediately did. Finally after several minutes the pain stopped. Phew. After about 1 hour of pushing, my son was born at 8:26 am, after only 4 hours of labor, weighting 7lbs, 3 oz. There was meconium in my fluid so they did not hand him to me but passed him to the NICU nurses for suctioning. After a minute I heard him cry and knew he was fine but it took them several minutes before they finally brought him back to me. He was perfect. I was elated! I pushed a baby out of my vagina! My body was not broken. While I was slightly disappointed I got the epidural, I knew in the back of my mind all along my biggest goal was to have a VBAC, not necessarily a natural childbirth, and I knew I wasn’t fully committed to that decision and was ‘playing it by ear’.
After my son's birth, I became enamored with the mystery of birth. I was shocked at how fast and, even though painful, relatively easy his birth was. The process of going into labor on my own was an unreal feeling and I learned a lot about myself and control. The week before he was born, I tried everything in my power to get him to be born. Even though my doctor was supportive of VBAC, she told me she wasn’t comfortable with me going over my due date by much, so I did feel like I was on the clock. So I tried sex, walking, nipple stimulation, drank red raspberry leaf tea, took evening primrose oil, pushed acupuncture points, ate spicy food, ate pineapple, and much to my embarrassment to admit now, even drank castor oil. And none of it worked. It was such a life lesson to my Type A controlling personality. Birth comes on its own terms when baby and the body is ready. Even now, at each birth I am humbled as it unfolds out of my control.
Through the experience and after learning more about the mystery of birth, I decided I wanted to become a doula. I hadn’t mentioned that my first career choice was a Certified Professional Accountant. It was not a good fit for me and I was bored to tears. I had gotten into because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I grew up so I figured business was a good route. My grandfather, step-father, and my older sister who I admired greatly, were all accountants.
At this point, when I decided to become a doula I never dreamed I would end up becoming a midwife, though that would change as my love and respect for birth grew. So I was a stay-at-home mom and began reading more about birth, and then I attended a doula training. When my son was a year old, I had my first opportunity to attend my friend’s birth as her ‘doula’. This birth ended up being a very traumatic birth (shoulder dystocia) and it’s amazing I still ended up becoming a midwife because it scared me so bad. I thought, maybe this doula things isn’t for me after all. But the call to birth kept coming and got stronger. Of course I went home that day and spent hours reading everything I could about shoulder dystocia. It happens in about 2 in 100 births. At home birth, we use different techniques to resolve it because we can move the mom into different positions which cannot be done with a mom flat on her back with an epidural. I still feared it but knew there were ways to handle it.
Shortly after that, I did become a doula. I was blown away by women’s strength, birth after birth, and I was mesmerized with the way birth unfolded. However I was also frustrated with the cascade of interventions I saw in the hospital. Then, I had an opportunity to attend a home birth. I was still a pretty new doula and at this point, so I was still a little nervous about home birth. It was a magical experience. She waited to have someone call me until birth was close. I quietly tiptoed into her bedroom fill with 2 midwives, her doula, another friend, and her husband. She was in the birth tub, quietly breathing through contractions as her husband held her. I instantly felt I was in sacred space. Quickly her low moans changed into guttural grunts. At first I didn’t realize what was happening but then I finally realized, she was pushing! No one was coaching her or yelling at her to push, she was just instinctively doing it on her own. The midwives just sat by quietly and observed and would listen to the fetal heart rate with the waterproof Doppler turned down low every so often. She was lying on her side in the tub and announced that the baby was coming. I looked and saw she had her hand cradled over the baby’s head under the water. With the next push the baby swam free as one of the midwives gently helped her lift the baby out of the water and onto the mom’s chest. At first I was worried something was wrong because I didn’t hear the baby cry. But I saw his eyes were open and he was moving his legs and was looking straight at his mother. I later learned that home birth babies, especially water birth babies, are typically very quiet when they are born when lights are low and the environment is quiet. Soon the placenta was born and mother and baby were moved to the bed. We all enjoyed a breakfast casserole together that had been put in the oven once birth was getting close. The midwives examined mom and baby and found the baby to be a whopping 10 lbs and mom only had a small tear that didn’t require suturing. This birth was clearly life-changing for me. I still didn’t know that I wanted to be a midwife, but I had seen what sacred undisturbed birth could look like.
After this I kept attending hospital births and got more frustrated. When I got pregnant with my 3rd child and I knew I wanted a home birth. My home birth was life-changing because I finally made it through natural birth. I had an amazing 4 hour labor in the comfort of my own home and birthed in the water surrounded by my birth team and loved ones. It was hard, but so much easier to be relaxed in my own environment. After this birth, I had an amazing opportunity to birth assist for a local home birth midwife. I was quickly called to midwifery school after that experience and the rest is history! I considered trying to stay a doula but I constantly felt called to more. I was constantly researching everything I could about birth and midwifery and things outside the scope of a doula. Being a midwife is a lot different than being a doula as a midwife requires much more critical thinking and analytical, clinical skills which seemed to be more appropriate for my analytical, type A personality. Midwifery is a calling. I tried to fight the call for a while but could no longer fight it and accepted that this was what I was called to do. It's a spiritual journey. I wanted to guide other moms through their life-changing experience, learning so much about themselves such as surrender, acceptance, patience, and the strength and power of their body like I had. I have been blessed and honored to witness so many miracles standing by women through all to the blood, sweat, and tears as they bring forth their children. And now that I am a midwife I wouldn't change it for the world.