There’s been some very negative coverage of unassisted homebirths that ended in tragedy recently, so I’d love to share one of our homebirth stories with you to show the other side of giving birth unassisted.
For those unfamiliar with the term, it refers to giving birth without a midwife, doula, or other medical assistance – just the mother and father. Sometimes it’s referred to as “free-birth”.
We chose to have our last 3 children unassisted, at home, because we felt very comfortable with it and had done all of our homework. It’s not for everyone, so please don’t think I am trying to convince you to do the same. It’s a very personal decision, and a big one.
This unassisted birth story is about our second child. He had an amazing birth, picture-perfect, and it was a transformative experience for us. I wrote a couple of pages in my journal about it afterward, and feel that by sharing it here, perhaps it would be inspiring to others. This is the condensed version – I won’t subject you to the full rambling entry.
We knew we wanted to give birth without a doula or midwife and that felt right to us, so we were fully prepared with knowledge and we had faith that this was the way it ought to be. No outside people, no monitors or artificial lights, no dogma, no interventions, and no fear.
As I fell asleep the night before the birth, I was feeling grateful – very blessed. We had just made a big leap in our lives, from living in a house to living in a tiny camper-trailer, trying to live simpler and save some cash. We were living the life we wanted, and that’s very fulfilling.
(It was hard, but it was good. We hauled all of our own drinking water and had access to a frost-free valve and hose about 50 feet away. One long extension cord gave us power to run the tiny fridge and 4 light bulbs, and we had a gas stove for heating water and cooking. Solar showers kept us clean, and we used a sawdust toilet (see the Humanure book) instead of the trailer toilet tank.)
The birth tub (an Aqua Doula) was set up outside and we had waited anxiously for the water temperature to get up to comfort level. You’re supposed to fill it with warm water, but we had no way of heating that much water other than by the sun, so we filled it with the hose and plugged it in and hoped for the best. It takes a long time for that much water to warm up.
That night I wasn’t even thinking about the possibility of the birth happening anytime soon, so when I went to sleep, I was just wishing that I didn’t have to get up so early for work. When my wife woke me up at about 2:30 am, I felt that what she was feeling was only the beginning of a long birth process, and that I should just sleep until things got a little heavier. I did doze off for a while, and then my wife woke me again by saying, “I really think we’ll get to meet our baby soon…” Wow! Hearing that will wake you up pretty quickly.
I started making some tea for us and tried to wake up a bit. I’m having a hard time accepting the fact that this is really happening right now. I run out and check the water temperature and it’s perfect. I feel aware and alert, excited, yet cautious. It seems now to have passed quickly, but at the time there was no time. Everything else ceased to exist.
My wife had made a list for me of things to do or say to her during the birth, so I read it over again and tried to reassure myself that I was as ready as she was.
We hung out inside at first, but then she wanted to be outside to walk and move freely. The pre-dawn mist was breathtaking, and as I looked towards the glow of the sun over the horizon, I knew that I was empty of fear about this birth, that something miraculous was about to happen.
All of a sudden Mama feels sick and needs a bowl. As she throws up, I remember that nausea and transition kind of go together. How could we be that far along already? It’s time to get in the tub.
I bring out towels and robe, water and tea. The warm water felt soothing to her, and a nice contrast to the cool foggy morning. A couple more contractions (rushes) came and went and then she started to get vocal, moaning through the contractions. I attempted to talk lovingly to her, as she had asked of me, but she just needed me to shut up and let her do her thing without words or logic or focusing outside of herself.
At one point she calls out to God, and that moment was so perfect, so divine. The water, the air, the mist, the sunrise, a man and a woman, a baby, and the Creator. I heard her cry sound throughout the universe and knew it was sacred.
I go inside and wake up our 5 year old and dress her and try to prepare her for what’s happening outside. She started chattering excitedly, asking tons of questions, but soon it clicked that this was it, and she settled down and focused on Mama.
All of sudden the baby drops a little and starts to crown – the head comes down, and I reach down to feel my child’s head. It’s really happening! Mama was peaking, having intense sensations, almost over the top, and then the head is out. A pause, and then the body seems to shoot out into the water and Mama’s hands are lifting the baby to the surface. As soon as his face was out of the water, he drew a breath, and our son was here.
My wife turned into a superhero at that moment as she stepped out of the tub, baby held to her chest, and heads straight for our front door. I tried to wrap a towel around her and help her step over the edge of the tub (3 feet tall), but she was in that fierce, focused, mama-state, and didn’t need me to do a thing. Incredible.
We go inside and light some candles and stare at him. He’s so mellow and patient and pink. We hadn’t actually checked for gender yet, so I peeked and then told the girls that a little man was here. We oiled his little buns so the meconium wouldn’t stick, and put a tiny cloth diaper on. He wasn’t really into nursing right away, so we just held him and waited for the placenta to come.
The placenta seemed to take forever to come, but then something shifted and it slid the rest of the way out. We put it in a bowl next to us until the umbilical cord was cold, then I bound and cut the cord. I coiled it on a piece of paper to dry as a keepsake for him, turned around, and saw my wife and daughter and infant son on the bed.
How can we be done already? Less than 4 hours after it began, we’re holding our baby.
Amazing. Perfect. Divine.
We stare at him for hours. I don’t know how we lived without him. It’s as if a long-lost family member returned at last. He latches on and nurses like a seasoned pro, and all is right with our world.
If you are considering giving birth unassisted, make sure you are completely comfortable with it, read everything you can on the subject, talk to others who have also done it (email me if you like at derek (at) naturalpapa.com), and be as prepared as you possibly can. This may mean having a transport plan to get to a medical center if needed, getting friends and family to agree to support you, and having a good understanding of what might need to happen if a complication arises. A great reference book is Spiritual Midwifery – the back half is full of practical birth information and how-to stuff.
More unassisted birth resources: