I’ve been hesitating on writing Josephine’s birth story because well, it was nothing like I had expected or planned and there is still a lot of disappointment and even trauma there. My Sweet Josephine is now 13 months old. We celebrated her first birthday a little over a month ago. I assumed everyone around me knew the story behind Josephine’s birth, but I keep getting the same reaction when they hear it: You need to write about this. When I sat down to start this post, I had a draft already started but I think it was too hard for me to finish it then- well I am ready now.
I don’t even know where to begin and I apologize in advance because I have no idea how many words this is going to take me.
Here we go…
After I came to my decision for a homebirth, I would drive the twenty minutes every 4 weeks to a rural town dotted with horse farms and cow pastures, toddler in tow. A dirt road led me to a small sign with the image of a mother holding a child and I would meet my two midwives in a cozy two room converted shed with a coal stove as the only source of heat. My two midwives were very different from each other, one authoritative, confident, and a little aloof… the other gentle, warm and compassionate.
My measurements were always normal at every prenatal appointment so I thought I was smooth sailing into a homebirth, however I always would say I just felt off. I was bluey, exhausted, lonely (yet isolating myself), and just blah. I wasn’t excited in the slightest for this new child and felt terribly guilty about it. I blamed the exhaustion of being pregnant with a toddler and all of the aches and pains of pregnancy for why I felt this way. I just kept thinking, as soon as the baby is born: I would feel better. I spent the pregnancy reading books on natural birth (I seriously read them all: My favorite was this one if you are interested: Birthing from Within), doing yoga, meditating, watching documentaries on homebirth, I took it ridiculously serious.
At around 38 weeks, I started to itch like crazy. Coupled with my last two blood pressure readings being slightly elevated at prenatal appointments and this was enough to make my anxiety skyrocket. I convinced myself I had choleastasis (Main symptom is unexplained itching) which was rare, but I had known women who had had it. This is where things start to go bad. The test to confirm Choleastasis took a week to get back and typical protocol is to induce you no later than 38 weeks if you are even suspected to have this condition because the chance of stillbirth becomes scarily high. Well I was already passed 38 weeks! My first was born 10 days late and I was not expecting to go early at all. All of the sudden, it felt like we were racing the clock. My midwives didn’t seem to be phased -they thought I was being overly paranoid and was most likely fine. Although I knew the chances of me having choleastasis was really very low, I just didn’t feel right. I called my midwives and just said listen: I don’t feel right, I’m worried. She was irritated by me I could tell. At this point, I became that patient- the needy one. She told me to go have a non stress test at the hospital – she had already seen me that week and there was nothing else she could do. So I go, thinking I’d be right back home with peace of mind that all was well and could relax a little. Well- I was there for SIX hours. My BP was through the roof, my body was broken out in hives and there were two fetal heart deceleration’s on the non stress test. They wanted to induce me on the spot. They felt so uncomfortable with me leaving that I had to sign against medical leave in order to be discharged. I was stuck; caught between two philosophies. My homebirth midwives were making me feel delusional and paranoid and the Obstetricians were basically telling me my baby could die at any minute and it would be my fault.
You have to understand, I had a lot invested in this homebirth. Our entire savings for one, but also a vision; something I had been preparing for for months. I wanted this experience so badly, even a little selfishly. I also didn’t really trust the medical system anymore when it came to birth. I felt they overreacted and jumped the gun in so many cases that everything they were saying felt like the fear tactics I had wanted to avoid.
I belonged to a natural birth support group on facebook which was VERY pro natural birth. I posted what was going on and figured I would get a bunch of responses telling me to “trust in my body”. I actually received the unanimous opposite reaction: Homebirth is not worth the safety of your baby, for that is the sole reason for this journey and if they were in my shoes- they wouldn’t chance it. I needed that reminder. After speaking with my midwife, we decided to try to “naturally” induce the next morning. If it didn’t work we would head to the hospital for an induction the next day (the exact opposite of everything I had planned for). So we had one day to get things going. My midwives kept asking my husband if I was “normally” like this (aka: anxious). They didn’t believe I had choleastasis (which I didn’t- the test came back after Jo was born- negative) and I couldn’t help but sense their aggravation. I felt unsupported, scared, and overall confused- What if I waited and something happened to the baby Or what if I waited and everything turns out how I had envisioned? But at this point, the ball had already been set in motion.
I was not in the “excited waiting for baby” head space at all. It was the exact opposite of a joyous experience. I thought I had at least a week before the baby came, I had barely talked to my family because everything was just happening so fast and so off plan. I don’t think I slept at all that night. I remember just sitting in bed making sure the baby was moving (remember the hospital scared the bejeezus out of me the night before telling me I could have a stillbirth at any moment). When my midwife arrived the next morning, I was in tears; anxious, scared, wondering if this was all in my head and if this was the right decision. When you have a homebirth there is a lot of autonomy- which is why women choose this route- but I just wanted direction. I wanted them to tell me WHAT TO DO because I no longer could trust my instincts.
She gave me a tincture of herbs (to this day I have no idea what was in there – talk about some ancient voodoo magic), and swept my membranes. I did not think this was going to work at all. The instructions were to walk like crazy and use my breast pump to stimulate labor. My doula spent the day with me because I was such a wreck and we walked the track at the YMCA every few hours. I started having contractions immediately but I was just in such denial that a mystery herb concoction would put me into labor a week and a half earlier than I had my first that I really thought there was no way. It was such a long shot.
My midwife returned two more times and repeated the process throughout the day, but every time I wasn’t dilating. Her last visit we talked about the plan for heading to the hospital in the morning if nothing happened over night. I felt just so defeated.
After about an hour after my midwife left I remember calling her because the contractions were every couple of minutes. Could it be? This is where it also gets ugly. Every time I called, I was met with exasperation by my birth team. Again, they thought I was overreacting. They had said repeatedly: this is not labor. So as the contractions got stronger I was more and more hesitant to call them. It wasn’t until I was bleeding and unable to get off the toilet because the contractions were so intense that I had called her again. This time I was in panic mode. I couldn’t feel the baby move so much so that we (my husband and I) broke out our home doppler in a panic and tried to find the heartbeat: we couldn’t. We were two seconds away from throwing our sleeping toddler in the car and rushing to the ER when I felt a kick. So, I called, and was met by the same irritated voice. She told me rudely: we should be sleeping- the contractions need to be stronger. I lost my temper and screamed, “You need to get here RIGHT NOW!”. She hesitantly agreed to come. I think it was about 11:30pm-midnight at this point. She lived twenty minutes away. I continued to get through the contractions with Zach by my side. Lots of tears, lots of yelling, lots of I don’t even know what?! I was still not comprehending that this was it.
My midwife arrived. She took one look at me and gave me a sincere apology: this was definitely labor. No one likes confrontation at this age, and I felt uncomfortable to have to be so intimate with this woman who I just had an argument with but alas, what was I going to do. The contractions were so strong at this point that I literally did not have control of my body. I just remember screaming “FUCK” over and over lol. I had so many plans for this homebirth; candles, music, pictures, a birth pool, “blessed” beads by loved ones. Between contractions I was scrambling to light candles- still clinging to that magical homebirth experience. So much preparation and thought. Pffftt- everything out the window.
I vaguely remember the second midwife arriving and every one scrambling to set up the birth pool I had rented when I felt pressure. I had no idea what the sensation was – I had never felt anything like it that I just started screaming “Something is happening! Something is happening to me!” I felt the urge to rush to the toilet. All of the sudden my pants are being ripped off and I’m being pushed into a birth stool. Her head was crowning.
This next sensation I can only describe as a comet ripping through my body. I had absolutely no control anymore. I can’t even describe it – it was so intense and surreal. I was not pushing: something ancient and primordial completely took over and I was only a mere vessel. Everyone was trying to talk to me and I was so scared that I couldn’t even look at what was happening. I remember making eye contact with one of the midwives and it was if at once everything went silent and I was only focusing on her. She said to give one gentle push and it would all be over.
My midwives had warned me that although women wish for a fast birth, it is not all it’s cracked up to be. It can be a little traumatic. It’s almost if your brain doesn’t have a chance to catch up that a baby was born. I didn’t even want to hold her right away. I just needed a minute to wrap my head around what had just happened.
My Sweet Josephine was born in her sac (en caul), a very rare event. I remember looking down and seeing this blue baby on the ground and saw she was a girl – I knew the entire time she would be a girl but had held out that maybe just maybe it would be a boy (but now cannot imagine not having two little girls to dress up). I remember instantly thinking she looked just like my Italian Grandfather. My Sicilian mother’s roots, dark features and all (however she later bloomed into a blue-eyed daddy’s twin). She also didn’t look like she was breathing and instinct took over, all I cared about was if she was okay although intuitively I knew she would be. And she was- when they come through the birth canal quickly- it takes a little time for their little body’s to catch on that they were born (seriously).
I remember having the same divine epiphany I did when my first baby was born: That it wasn’t just a baby nudging me from within all those months. Not just another human being or a person, but a soul. She was so innocent and pure and held all of that celestial unwordly magic that I instantly felt guilty for pushing her through my belly just hours before coaxing her to move. It was around 1am now, our families were asleep- no one had known that labor had actually took. Our then 2 year old had woken up and met her baby sister. We weighed her (she was a tiny one- only 6lbs). She definitely would have cooked a little longer if we had let her. We all rejoiced over hot tea and chicken noodle soup in the middle of the night recounting the craziness of the last few hours. We were so giddy with excitement that we couldn’t sleep at all. I couldn’t wait to tell our families. I held out until 7 am.
My homebirth was far from how I envisioned it. It wasn’t a spiritual awakening by candelight. There were no angels singing with women gently stroking my hair. It was anything but calm and peaceful. There was a lot of fear, anxiousness, and unmet expectations. My whole premise for having a homebirth was because I believed if I followed the ancient code, and let nature take its course- all would be as it should. That my body knew what to do. I would have no baby blues, I would adjust smoothly and fall instantly in love with my baby. But at the end of it all, my experiment failed. The exact opposite of what I thought would happen, happened. As I’ve written in detail about, I suffered terrible PPD/A and for a long time I resented my innocent newborn and her birth for how I felt. As I look back now, I think my personality did not fit a homebirth. I’m too much of a planner, too neurotic, and when things started to deviate from normal I couldn’t handle it. And maybe that was the lesson I needed to learn.
After having gone through the experience, I no longer believe a natural birth is the ultimate answer. I think what is more important and what stays with women forever is how they were treated during their birth and if they felt safe. After looking back and speaking with my midwives, something was slightly off physically (my BP, etc.) but my sheer anxiety caused the rest of the symptoms. The way I had been feeling during my pregnancy was most likely post partum depression presenting itself early (which happens over 50% of the time). So would I and Josephine been fine if we had waited and let her come on her own? Probably, but maybe not. I often wondered if I would have had that beautiful experience I yearned for if I just would have waited, maybe the PPD wouldn’t have been so bad? The dreaded “what ifs”, but as time went on I let go a lot of the negative feelings regarding her birth. The lines don’t seem as jagged anymore and the memory has softened. Now it was this crazy thing I did once: Hey remember that night I had a baby in my living room? (go ahead you can laugh ;))
Many belief systems hold that being born with a veil (en caul) is a sign of special destiny or good luck. A child born in this way is known as a caulbearer. I never met my maternal grandmother, but one thing I did know about her was that when she was born she was born “en caul” just as Josephine had (it happens in fewer than 1 in 80,000 births). My grandmother’s son, my mother’s only sibling, my uncle Joseph- had passed away a few years ago tragically. Years ago before ever being pregnant, a medium told my mother that when I have children, my uncle will come through (I think secretly this is why I was sure I would have a boy someday). It wasn’t until I heard the name Josephine while I was pregnant and thought hmm… what a beautiful name, that I remembered this tid bit and I was overcome with chills. We had originally decided to name our new little girl Ophelia and even filled out all the paperwork with this name- but as everyone left and the house grew quiet again, I stared at this new little being who was only illuminated by the soft white light of our Christmas tree and couldn’t help but feel she was sent from somewhere greater. I saw my uncles resemblance and thought about the special connection she shared with my grandmother – and everything came full circle. I knew her name was Josephine.
The name Josephine is translated to “God will add”– and that He did. She has brought more sweetness and love to our home than we could have ever imagined. She has been a reminder of all that is good and sweet in the world. Our beginning may not have been how I envisioned it- but beginnings hold little value when the journey is a boundless one <3