The initial birth experience is notorious for being a long and arduous affair, but also an excellent learning experience. Second births tend to be less difficult, not only due to shorter labor times, but also better maternal preparation.
Whitney Minten put everything in place to not have a repeat of her first birth – twenty-three hours of labor, punctuated by three hours of epidural-numbed pushing in the hospital. For her second birth, two years after her first, Whitney lined up a homebirth midwife, a birthing tub, and several affirmations to see her through the tough hours she knew would challenger her.
Whitney talks to Louisiana Natural Birth about her hopes for Sawyer’s January birth, and the delightfully surprising outcome that exceeded all expectations.
LNB: This was your second baby, can you tell me about your first birth experience and what things you aimed to make different this time around?
WM: I had just moved to Louisiana before I got pregnant with my first. I didn’t have any friends or know anyone who could help me with being pregnant, just my mother who thought epidurals were the way to go. I feel like I skated through the first two trimesters of my first pregnancy. I took some pretty ineffectual classes that didn’t teach me a thing about natural birth, or even birth for that matter. I had two awful OBs who really objected to a mother having a say in her birth. I guess I let this all happen because I didn’t know there was another way. I knew homebirth was out there, but being new to Southern Louisiana, I had no idea it was available in the area. Watching “Business of Being Born” made me recognize my naiveté in my pregnancy. It made me start thinking about natural birth and I began to seek out other people who desired a natural birth. But most importantly, it led me to question my OBs. When I brought up the idea of a natural birth they little called me “one of those crazy people” and told me that “birth plan” was a dirty word in their office.
Unfortunately, I realized this all pretty late in my pregnancy, at 33 weeks. I signed up for Nicki Solomito Pugh’s Bradley class the following week. She too was pregnant with her second child, and having her first homebirth with midwife Emmy Trammell. Nicki got me into contact with Emmy and the Louisiana Natural Birth meetup board (LNB). When I brought up a homebirth to my OBs, they said they would instantly drop me as a patient. They were the typical OBs that I was getting warned against.
I began to look for another OB at 35 weeks. I called Emmy to see if she would take me as a homebirth client, but she was booked. She took me on as a doula client instead. Nicki was seeing Bethanie Genre, a Certified Nurse Midwife at Ochsner. She told me some great things about her, so I called to see if she could take me on as a patient. Bethanie called me back instantly after I left the message and said that she would have to look at my chart, but if it looked fine, she would take me. It took me one and a half weeks to get my chart from my OBs, but amazingly, Bethanie accepted me at 37 weeks. I saw her twice before going into labor on my due date.
That first labor was typical. I got to Baton Rouge General at about six cm dialation. By the time I got there, I was utterly exhausted and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I called for an epidural at hour 18 of my 23 hour labor. Emmy, Bethanie, and the nursing staff were all really great. They worked hard to talk me out of it, but I just wasn’t prepared mentally. Now I know that you need more than four weeks of mental preparation to handle labor without meds.
I knew if I was going to have a natural birth with my second child, I would have to prepare for everything. I would have to line up the right health care provider (HCP), as well as prepare physically and mentally for labor.
I met with Emmy four months before I got pregnant to make sure she would be available for a homebirth. The day I found out I was pregnant, I called her. I was her first client of the New Year. HCP in place—check. Next I emailed the Hypnobirthing instructor to tell her to sign me up for her soonest class. Mental preraration—check.
I listened to my affirmations CD often, I practiced pain coping techniques, I asked a lot of questions, I read every natural birth book I could get my hands on, and I surrounded myself with people who believed I could do this—including the LNB. Now that it is over, I think I probably over did it, but I have no doubt that my preparation helped make this birth so easy.
LNB: How do you compare this birth experience with your first birth?
WM: There really is no comparison. The only thing that was the same was the beautiful baby at the end of all of it.
Until switching to Bethanie, CNM, I had such terrible OBs that made the office experience so medical, cold, rushed, and frankly terrifying. With Emmy, the certified professional midwife, it was like I was visiting a friend. Her office is in a quaint little building in charming downtown Ponchatoula. It’s comfortable and home-like. Our first visit lasted over two hours and subsequent visits were about an hour. The visits were relaxed and much of the time was spent talking about life, love, and babies. It was wonderful. Looking back on the experience now I think it really helped me fall in love with my pregnancy and my baby.
Birthing at home was just as amazing. I remember when I was laboring at home with Spencer, my first, I kept thinking in the back of my mind that we would have to leave soon for the hospital. Am I forgetting anything? Is everything packed? Do I really have to wear my seatbelt on the way to the hospital? Will there be traffic? What if I have him on the way there? All these thoughts were creating this disturbance of having to leave my nesting space. This time it was so beautiful and natural. None of these thoughts were there. I knew I had everything I needed at home. I didn’t have to go anywhere. I could just focus on my baby.
Being home after Sawyer was born was equally amazing. My husband and I were home with my son and newborn baby, all in bed together. There were no intrusions; it wasn’t cold, or strange. At the hospital with Spencer, I had all my defenses up. Everyone who walked in my room felt like a potential threat to my baby. Would they take him from my side? Try to give him shots or formula? I felt like the hospital staff thought they knew what was best for my baby and they were going to try to interfere with my mothering. I slept horribly there, as did my husband Brian on the lumpy fold-out couch. There was no peace for us.
The morning after Sawyer was born we woke up as a family, all four of us plus two cats, together and relaxed for the rest of the day. It was very peaceful.
LNB: Tell me about your decision to birth at home?
WM: After learning that homebirth was an option for us with my first son, there was no decision, just the question, “What do I have to do to achieve this?” It really seemed like a natural decision. I wish everyone knew the benefits and was less afraid of having a homebirth.
LNB: Having chosen to birth at home, did you come up against unsupportive family and friends? If so, how did you deal with that?
WM: Yes. I really struggled with this because I grew up in a family that if you had a pain or a problem, you popped a pill to make it go away. I really wanted my mother to be at my house so she could spend some time with my older son if I needed her to. I didn’t have any family in the area and I didn’t want to burden any friends in case I went into labor late at night, which I did. Plus I know Spencer, age two, wouldn’t sit with anyone else.
My mother was really pro-epidural though and nervous about having me birthing at home. Every time I spoke with her about the upcoming birth, she would say, “I don’t know why you just don’t get an epidural.” I sat down with her several times pointing out the benefits of a homebirth. I had her read books, watch videos. I wanted to prepare her. I remember after watching “Business of Being Born” together, she turned to me and said, “If only you could have a homebirth with an epidural.” Argh! I wanted to scream.
I think it all changed, though when I brought her to a homebirth meetup with Emmy, my midwife, hosted by the LNB. She met Emmy and instantly felt at peace with my decision. She still had a bit of anxiety anticipating the sounds of me working through labor, but planned to go in another part of the house, or outside.
Other than my mother, I really worked hard to stay positive and surround myself with supportive people. If I encountered someone with unsupportive comments, I would use it as an opportunity to educate people about homebirth. I had a concise little spiel memorized and found it to be fun after a while. I found that the more confident and concise I was with my responses, the more people seemed to listen and back off. At times I would get heated and start rambling about homebirth and its benefits, and that is when people would get defensive and close minded.
LNB: Was your husband supportive of your choice to birth at home?
WM: Absolutely. When I brought it up with my first birth, he had concerns, but he read up about it and then said, “Why wouldn’t you do this?” So with Sawyer, he was on board from the beginning.
LNB: What role did your husband play in this birth? How did it differ from his role in your first birth?
WM: Before my first birth, my husband was really a trooper. He went to class after class, and he read most the books that I read. This time he was really busy with work and with Spencer, so he didn’t go to any hypnobirthing classes with me or read a word.
As for the labors, I think if you ask him, he would say he played the same role in each of the births. He was there to help me through contractions and was there for whatever I needed. I however, don’t remember him much in my first birth. I guess because it was pretty painful and I was much more focused on myself.
This time around, I relied on him a lot more. I think I remember everything he said, and where he was with every contraction. I relied on him a lot more this time around. This birth it was more about us than it was about me. Still, it’s hard to compare since my first labor was 23 hours and he was there for 22 of it, while this last one was maybe 3 hours, and he was by my side for about the last hour of it.
LNB: How did you prepare your oldest son for the birth experience, what was his reaction after the birth?
WM: I tried explaining that there was a baby in Mommy’s tummy. He didn’t get it. He would say, “In Sesser’s too?” – In Spencer’s too? I explained to him that Mommy would hurt when the baby came out, but it would be a good hurt. He still didn’t get it. So, I tried showing him some videos.
I remember in one video, the baby’s head was crowning and Spencer had his back to the TV. I told him to look at the TV, the baby was coming out of the mommy’s tummy. He nonchalantly turned around and glanced at it, then continued playing. Then he dropped everything as he registered what he just saw and turned around slowly to watch the rest of the birth. Then after that he would ask, “Is there a baby in Mommy’s tummy?”
He was asleep during the birth. I really, really wanted him there, and I wanted him to watch it happen. But since it happened so fast I just didn’t have time to think about having him present and he missed it. While I was delivering the placenta, Brian brought Spencer in to meet his new brother. Spencer said, “Hi baby, do you want to play trains?” It was the sweetest thing.
Now, he will often say, “Baby came out of Mommy’s tummy.” So, I think he gets it now. I think at two and a half, he was just a tad too young to grasp it before it all happened. I think if/when I have another, he will get it and I can explain it better to him, using the correct anatomy.
LNB: What expectations did you have going into this birth? Were those expectations met, and if not, how do you feel about that?
WM: My expectations were that it was going to be tough. For that reason, I put many things in place to help me through the tough times, like a birth tub and candles and music. I also had homeopathies available: Rescue Remedy, Echinacea, oils and herbs. I kept energy boosters on hand, like honey sticks, vitamin C, Gatorade. I created an encouraging environment with printed well-wishes from friends and affirmations taped to the wall, as well as copied pages from natural birth books.
I envisioned my midwife Emmy by my side, pulling from her vast arsenal to help me through the next contraction. I was also hoping that I would get some great pictures and video of the labor. At one time I even had a professional photographer lined up to come and take pictures. But the time from when I realized I was in labor until the actual birth totaled less than one hour, so none of those things happened. None of it.
I am incredibly grateful that I had a fast and low-pain labor, but at the same time I walked away kind of feeling cheated that I didn’t get to utilize anything that I so meticulously planned and prepared for. Emmy was barely there five minutes before Sawyer was born. It’s really a minor thing though. I am overjoyed with my labor. I think most of my other expectations were exceeded. I never expected to have such an easy recovery. I didn’t have a moment of any postpartum depression, and the overpowering love I have for Sawyer and our overall birth experience has been an amazing but unexpected surprise.
I think that because I went into my first birth with so many expectations, especially that it be natural, I purposely went into this one with fewer expectations. I was just hoping that when the time came that I might be demanding an epidural, no one would drive me to the hospital.
LNB: Do you feel like the birth experience itself had an impact on the postpartum experience?
WM: Yes! My homebirth experience was so overwhelming different and better.
With Spencer, I pushed for three and a half hours with an epidural. Right after labor, I got Bells Palsy. Emmy had acted as my doula through that labor and thought that the combo of the pushing and having the epidural made the nerve swell to cause the Palsy. The left side of my face was completely dead. I couldn’t even close or open my eye.
I think all first-time moms have those moments where their baby is crying and they feel like a failure. Here I was, a first-time mom, feeling down on myself for having the epidural and I feeling like a monster in my appearance. It was devastating. I definitely had some postpartum depression and it affected my connection with Spencer.
Spenser and I have an incredible connection now, but I think it took about a year for that overflowing love to develop. With Sawyer it was instant—it was almost frightening. I felt so immediately attached and so in love, tears would well up in my eyes when I looked at him—happy tears. I didn’t have a moment of postpartum depression or even baby-blues.
Another great part of the postpartum experience was Emmy. She came to my house the next three days after I had Sawyer and then weekly after that for a bit. It was great to have that support. Even though I was a second time mom and I had it down, the baby was different, so I still had questions and concerns.
My birth with Spencer, my first, was fine. I have feelings of disappointment, mostly with myself for giving into an epidural. Bethanie, my nurse midwife, was great though, and I highly recommend her for anyone not comfortable with homebirth. Still, there is just this emotional disconnect with that first birth in the hospital.
I think your home is really like part of your family. It’s the place where your family comes together, so having Sawyer at home seemed natural. I just have such a feeling of peace about this last birth.
LNB: You experienced several days of pre-labor contractions. How did you deal with the frustration of that?
WM: Not well. New Year’s weekend was difficult and the frustrations kept mounting. It all started on Friday, New Year’s Eve. Contractions began and I started to lose my mucous plug, but that didn’t amount to anything. New Year’s Day, Saturday, there was nothing but some random contractions. Sunday evening I thought I was in labor. Things seemed to be falling into place, contractions were getting closer. I even called Emmy to warn her of her evening ahead. Then my due date arrived Monday, Jan 3rd and…nothing. Sensing the frustration in my voice, Emmy swung by late Monday afternoon to check me. She told me that Sawyer had disengaged and labor wasn’t happening.
Contractions started again about 7:30 that evening, but Emmy told me that without an engaged baby, the contractions weren’t doing anything. I could feel he was still high, so, I didn’t believe it was labor. A couple hours later, contractions were getting more intense and my husband and I again called Emmy. Neither she nor I thought I was in labor, not until my water broke at 10:18. At 10:37, Emmy caught Sawyer, barely.
So in the end, I dealt with my frustrations by denying that I was really in labor. It really seemed impossible that labor was happening, since my labor with Spencer was 23 hours, and Sawyer was floating high in the rafters only three hours before the birth. I think my body was doing a lot of work in those days before I had Sawyer, but it was really a tough three days, emotionally.
LNB: What coping measures did you use once labor started to progress?
WM: I circled my hips in hula motions. I stood leaning over a tall pillow on the bed and rocked and swayed around. I did that the entire time. I took hypnobirthing classes and although I can’t say mine was a painless birth, the classes really did help me relax in the beginning of labor, and the affirmations really stuck with me. The last fifteen minutes, I got into the bathtub. We started to fill it with water, but Emmy called and Brian put her on speaker phone. We couldn’t hear her with the water running, so we turned it off. I knelt on my knees in four inches of water and continued to rock and sway. Sawyer was born in the bathtub, but it wasn’t really a water birth.
LNB: Your midwife barely made it on time! Were you prepared to give birth without her there?
WM: It never even crossed my mind. We had no idea that I was as close as I was to giving birth. Even after my body started to push Sawyer out, I still thought I had much more time than I did. I had pushed for three and a half hours with Spencer. Sawyer’s pushing stage was four contractions totaling about eight minutes.
LNB: Describe those moments right before the birth.
WM: I play this moment over and over in my head and this is how it goes.
Brian gets off the phone with Emmy. She decides to come and check on me since I sound like I am losing control. Emmy tells Brian to get me into the bathtub to try to relax. We all think we have a long night ahead.
I tell Brian to start blowing up the birth-tub, but he tells me to wait until Emmy gets here. Meanwhile, I get into the bathtub. The lights in the bathroom are dim. I am kneeling over the side of the tub hugging Brian, who is also on his knees outside the bathtub. It is about this time, at 10:15pm, that I admit that I am in labor.
I am working through some tough contractions and I am starting to feel some incredible pressure on my cervix. I can feel my membranes about to rupture. I know that contractions will get worse when this happens so I am working hard not to move too quickly, or do anything that will break my water.
A few minutes pass before my membranes do break. Boom! I feel Sawyer drop down onto my cervix. I can visualize the shock wave moving through the room, knocking both Brian and me down.
Brian fumbles with my phone and texts to Emmy, “Water broke.” She instantly calls. Brian sets the phone on the side of the tub with Emmy on speaker phone. We turn the water off to hear.
Meanwhile, my body starts pushing my baby out. I feel my body take over and push without any help or willingness from me.
I scream, “I am pushing!”
Emmy’s voice cracks over the speaker and fills the bathroom, telling me to resist the urge to push. Unfortunately, my prior statement was mis-worded. I should have said, “My body is pushing.” But, being in the throes of labor, my words were not carefully chosen.
The next contraction comes. I know to trust my body, but I trust Emmy too. So with the next contraction I try to stop my body from pushing. The more I try to stop it though, the more my body pushes. It doesn’t feel right to resist, so I stop trying to stop, and just give into my body.
At this point, Emmy is giving us turn-by-turn directions to where she was. She is close. Finally, she is in the driveway.
An incredible surge flows through my body and I lean over the tub and scream with everything I have. I had been trying to keep quiet so as to not scare Spencer, or my mother for that matter, but I can no longer restrain my vocalizations.
Compounding my primal calls, a triumphant horn sounds, announcing Emmy the Super-Midwife who swoops into the bathroom. She is dressed in purple tights and a green Super-Midwife cape, emblazoned with a capital “E.” Ok, maybe she’s really in purple track pants and a green scrub shirt, but hey, it’s my birth story!
Anyway, I feel a familiar burning – the infamous “ring of fire.” I reach down and touch the bulge of Sawyer’s head. Emmy pulls on her last glove, leans over the tub, and says the sweet words, “Push him out!” I push and feel his wriggling little body leave mine.
LNB: What was it like to be home immediately after the birth of your son?
It was perfect, absolutely perfect. I really think that being home immediately after the birth made the entire birth experience perfect. With Spencer I had some postpartum depression and I am convinced that being at home squelched it this time.
After the birth, the four of us snuggled in our own bed as a family; even our two cats were there. It was beautiful and peaceful. Emmy stayed with us until we were all comfortable and snug in bed. We all fell asleep together with our new little baby. It was a very natural feeling. We awoke in the morning and had a casual breakfast. I was up and about and I felt better than great. It was a beautiful day, so we all went outside and sat on the deck while Spencer played on his swings and Sawyer soaked up the warm sun. I wouldn’t change that day for anything in the world.
Filed under: Anything and Everything Birth, The Birth Experience: told by those who were there | Tagged: homebirth, midwife | 3 Comments »