Allison’s second birth was completely different from her first. She recounts the process it took her to gain the confidence to birth at home. In the end the journey was so worth it!
Hayes Birth Story: My Empowering Decision to Birth at Home
By: Allison Slaughter
“Wherever and however you intend to give birth, your experience will impact your emotions, your mind, your body, and your spirit for the rest of your life.” –Ina May
As I prepared to give birth to my second child, Hayes Alan, the quote above spoke to my soul. My first birth experience (which you can read here) left much to be desired. I was thankful to achieve a natural delivery; however, labor was wrought with restrictions in movement and pressure to comply with hospital policies. I was struck by memories of darkness surrounding my labor. For hours, I felt unsupported and stressed while lying in a hospital bed attached to monitors. While I persevered through the pain, I struggled to feel like I had any control in this major life event. After much reflection, I was determined to create a more peaceful and joyful birth experience. This story details the journey that led me to confidently decide to give birth at home. I felt so empowered in this decision. It also describes the quick, intense, and beautiful labor and delivery that followed. I will cherish this sacred, life-giving experience forever.
The morning of Tuesday, November 4th, 2015 was full of shock, awe, excitement, and thankfulness. These feelings were mixed with anxiousness, fear, and disbelief. Matt was traveling on a business trip to Mexico, and Lydia and I remained at home in Nashville. Monday night, I was exhausted, and I fell asleep soon after I put Lydia to bed. I clearly remember waking up suddenly around 3 am after I had a vivid dream that I was pregnant with twins. For some reason, this dream caught me off guard. I deliriously walked to the bathroom and took a pregnancy test. I set the test aside and thought to myself, “That was crazy…why would I be pregnant again six months postpartum?” It felt like an out of body experience. So, I went back to bed without even looking at the result. I suppose I was too tired to care. Or, maybe I felt content to remain in denial. I slept the rest of the night and awoke in the morning to the sound of Lydia talking. She was my alarm clock.
While I was getting us both ready to go to bible study, I walked back into the bathroom and the pregnancy test caught my eye. Chuckling, I picked up the test stick and realized the second line was dark! It immediately took my breath away. I sat down and stared at the test in utter disbelief. My thoughts and emotions were jumbled…Positive. Whoa. Really? Big eyes. Deep breath. Is it possible? Smile… It was a struggle to concentrate as my mind flooded with questions and excitement.
Once I regained my composure, I realized our babies would be about 15 months apart and my mind was overwhelmed with fears. How exactly would I keep my life together and my kids scheduled, while also keeping myself sane (and because I assumed it was another girl, how would I keep their bows on straight)?! Nevertheless, when I thought deep into my core, I proclaimed prayers of thankfulness. I thought to myself, “I absolutely love being a mom to the sweetest little girl, Lydia Riley. And, I get to experience motherhood AGAIN.” I did not have to endure cycle counting, ovulation tests, worry, or doubt. What a gift and a blessing! I felt a great sense of humility, joy, and responsibility that God was entrusting us with another precious life.
The Journey to Choose Home Birth:
The first half of my pregnancy proved to be a physically challenging experience. The exhaustion was brutal. I generally felt like a walking zombie. The numerous headaches and resulting nausea were tough to manage while caring for a 6-month-old infant and working part time. Lydia was breastfeeding large volumes of milk and my body was struggling to keep up. I felt like I was eating and drinking constantly, but it was never enough. However, I was determined to continue breastfeeding for as long as my body would produce enough milk. So, I pressed on.
In addition to the physical challenges, I was trying to process my first birth experience. I realized I was traumatized by the gestational diabetes diagnosis I received during my pregnancy, and I was constantly fixated on the matter. Here is the back-story: My one-hour glucose test came back at 206, which is high enough to automatically diagnose gestational diabetes. I was immediately sent to an endocrinology doctor and was instructed to test my blood sugar after each meal for the rest of my pregnancy. From the day I started charting, I did not have one result out of the normal range. This left me perplexed by the diagnosis. In fact, when I cut out carbohydrates and sugar, my readings would be borderline hypoglycemic, and I felt light headed and shaky.
My best friend, Lia, was pregnant as well with an estimated due date two days ahead of me. She passed her glucose test, so we decided an experiment was necessary. Lia brought Jimmy Johns sandwiches for dinner and we ate them at the same time. An hour later, we both checked our blood sugar. While both of our results remained in normal range, Lia’s blood sugar was higher than mine. Now, I was really curious to see if there were any foods that would trigger a spike. I tested skittles, milkshakes, and soda, but the results remained unchanged. In turn, I spoke with several midwives in the practice about these odd findings. I even asked to take the three-hour glucose test to see whether the diagnosis was accurate. In response, I was told that this test could be harmful to my baby because my one-hour result was so high. As you can imagine, I was frustrated. I so deeply wanted to confirm whether the first test result was a lab error. It cost me a great deal of stress, money, and time not knowing the truth.
Several providers reassured me that I would not be treated as if I was gestational diabetic during labor because I was diet controlled. However, as I explained in Lydia’s birth story, nurses were checking my blood sugar while I was laboring and it was a major distraction. Of course, my result was five points higher than the normal range. I was in a stressful environment laboring naturally. When my blood sugar had not normalized immediately after my unmedicated delivery, I was given insulin per hospital protocol.
In the end, I struggled most with the fact that none of the care providers I spoke with were willing to look further into the diagnosis when my blood sugars were completely normal. In processing, I realized I was ultimately looking for a care provider who would listen to my story, treat me as an individual client, and seek the truth. Generic answers would not suffice. This dilemma revealed important desires that led me on a mission to find the best provider.
Seeking expertise and advice, I took a list of questions to a trusted midwife. I hoped to gain perspective on my gestational diabetes saga. In our discussion, she asked whether I had considered delivering at the birth center or at home. While I was so thankful for her honest encouragement and genuine guidance, my immediate gut reaction was that a home birth was not for me. As a Neonatal Intensive Care nurse myself, I thought, “that’s too risky!” However, I was willing to consider the birth center.
Shortly thereafter, I went for a tour of Baby and Co., and I fell in love with the calming environment. The rooms were gorgeous, it did not feel like a hospital, and I loved the midwifery model of care. However, I quickly realized this option did not accommodate several of my desires. While there was a smaller group of providers, the midwife on call would deliver the baby. In addition, if my glucose test result was abnormal and I received a gestational diabetes diagnosis, I would be transferred out of the practice. It did not matter if my sugars were diet controlled. This protocol made me feel anxious. I was terrified that I would be forced to transfer my prenatal care during my third trimester. Most importantly, I gained the perspective that a birth center has the same emergency equipment, medications and resuscitation capabilities as a home birth team. To be accurate, Baby and Co. does have a contract with Angel Transport for any emergent baby transfers (a relief for my NICU heart). However, this luxury aside, the medical capabilities are equal. Finally, our medical insurance proved to be another hurdle. According to our plan, the birth center was out-of-network and it would cost more than a hospital or home birth.
With this knowledge, I continued my prenatal care with the midwife I trusted. I tried to convince myself that I was comfortable with another hospital birth if she could be there for delivery. She was so patient with me as I nearly begged her to agree. But, she gently reminded me that there was no guarantee due to practice requirements and personal obligations. I knew the uncertainty would leave me feeling stressed. At this point, it was clear, I needed to explore the possibility of a home birth.
I was nearly halfway through my pregnancy researching to educate myself on this birth option. I soon acknowledged that prior to my reading, I had fallen into the strong American stigma that home birth was not safe. I realized that with a low risk pregnancy the number of negative home birth outcomes was alarmingly comparable to that in a hospital setting. I sent my findings to Matt, and I asked him to objectively consider the information. I found him supportive of the idea and willing to explore this option. Soon, I consulted friends who had chosen a home birth to ask about their experiences. I contacted Merrill seeking advice and she encouraged me to meet with a midwife. As I read home birth stories, I realized the only thing holding me back was fear. Therefore, I set up a consultation with Vines Midwifery. Matt and I were excited to meet Jennifer and learn more about her practice. We felt a connection to her immediately and were comfortable asking our questions and discussing our fears. She exuded confidence, and she had a wealth of knowledge. She seemed calm-spirited yet cautious, and we felt confident in her midwifery skills and ability to intervene if necessary. Following our meeting, I felt a new passion welling up in my heart, and I knew this option encompassed all of my birth desires. Though it took a few weeks of processing to commit, I finally felt empowered to confidently choose a home birth.
Here are the reasons behind my decision…(Disclaimer: I am not projecting that home birth is the correct choice for every mother. In fact, it is only deemed safe for low-risk, healthy mothers with no prenatal complications. Every woman is in charge of her own experience and must research and decide where she feels comfortable giving birth. Obviously, I have strong feelings about natural childbirth and the experience that surrounds this sacred experience; however, that does not mean there are no other positive birth experiences outside of the home. I chose a home birth because it encompassed the experience and environment that best aligned with my birthing goals.)
- The stable, trusted relationship with our midwife was extremely important. As I mentioned above, I desperately wanted to know and trust the provider who would deliver this precious baby. We fully believed in Jennifer Vines and I loved developing a relationship with her at all of my prenatal appointments. She gave me grace as I ran in ten minutes late most days with my one year old in tow. She had time for me. She knew my pregnancy history. She knew my family. She knew and believed in ME.
- I desired a comfortable, peaceful environment. Hospitals are for sick people and high-risk pregnancies. I had no reason to believe I fit either of those categories. I felt comfortable in my own home, and I knew I could relax in my own, peaceful environment. I did not want any intervention the hospital had to offer unless it was absolutely necessary.
- We lived in close proximity to a reputable medical center and neonatal intensive care unit. – We lived less than a mile from Vanderbilt Medical Center if transfer was necessary.
- This was a low risk pregnancy. – I was healthy. Baby was healthy. And, I had already experienced a natural birth. I knew my body was fully capable.
- The research upholds that with a low risk pregnancy home birth is a safe option.
- If I did in fact have gestational diabetes this pregnancy, I could still have a home birth if my sugars were diet controlled. I felt confident that even if my blood sugars were elevated I could tweak my diet to ensure they were controlled. I no longer feared the glucose test. This was a huge relief.
At 25 weeks, my dream birth team was established, and I started receiving prenatal care from Jennifer Vines. While I was confident and passionate about my home birth decision, I was reserved about publicly displaying my plan. At Lydia’s one-year well visit, I told our pediatrician we would be having a home birth, and her fearful reaction felt overwhelming and burdensome. She was adamant that I bring the baby into the office within 24 hours of delivery, and she made it clear that she was uncomfortable with my decision. After this experience (and choosing a new pediatrician), I guarded my mental health by keeping this decision relatively quiet. I knew I would struggle with various reactions, and I was determined to keep a positive perspective. Fearful commentary would inevitably keep me up at night, and I certainly did not need an added sleep disruption.
Between 30 and 40 weeks of pregnancy, it got HOT in Tennessee. I do not exaggerate when I say the heat was almost unbearable, but Lydia and I kept moving and sweating with the hope that baby brother would begin to descend and engage. We ventured to nearby parks, picnicked on Belmont University’s lawn, and spent every Tuesday at the Farmer’s Market with friends. The Braxton Hicks contractions were constant when I was in motion, and the ligament tension, back pain, and pubic bone discomfort were increasing weekly. Around 39 weeks, it took us an hour to complete 1.5 miles because the back pain was so overwhelming that I could not walk through contractions. These physical constraints often a made it a struggle to function until bedtime. When Matt got home from work, he would help with Lydia’s routine, and I would take a hot bath to relieve my aches and pains from the day. I did not think my belly could possibly expand further. Hayes was occupying so much space that I had no appetite. I began to survive on popsicles and smoothies. I had to have all things LIME. It was an addiction I chose not to control. When the lime popsicles were gone, we walked to the store to buy more.
During this timeframe, we were so busy moving to a rental house, starting a construction project, battling a roach infestation, and celebrating Lydia’s first birthday that I failed to focus on connecting with Hayes. Lia helped me plan a small blessingway with close friends to honor his unique pregnancy and journey to birth. During this sacred time, I acknowledged and released my fears concerning labor and delivery. We prayed over the birth space, labor process, and birth team. My friends read blessings they had written to encourage me, and I found the reflection time healing, strengthening, and empowering. We ended the night by creating a labor tank top with my friends’ handprints encircling an anchor. April Lussier perfectly illustrates, “Just as a tree grows best when anchored firmly in the Earth, so can a pregnant mother feel strong and capable when supported by a sisterhood of nurturing friends.”
Yet again, my due date came and went quickly; however, I was not shocked. Every morning, I planned a new activity with friends, and we engaged in story time dates, play dates, park dates and pool dates. I wanted to enjoy every moment I had left with Lydia as my only baby. Chik-Fil-A Appreciation Day was Tuesday July 12th, so Lia, Adair, Lydia and I made an appearance in full cow costumes. The crowds were crazy, but the pictures are priceless. The next morning, I had the brilliant idea to go hike the ridge at Radnor Lake. Deep down, I hoped hiking with a 26-pound toddler on my back might start labor, so I coaxed Lia into going with me. The journey did not last long and we never made it to the ridge because the girls were hot, hungry, and did not want to be restrained in carriers. It was a memorable experience to say the least.
Thursday, I was 40 weeks and 5 days, and my doula, Merrill, checked in to see how I was feeling. After informing her that there was no significant change, I invited her to the Williamson Public Library story time Friday morning so that we could catch up. We planned to meet Lia and Adair at 10:30 AM for story-time and a picnic lunch.
I woke up Friday morning feeling rejuvenated, and we made it to Franklin as planned. I remember feeling tightening during the program, but I was distracted and had no sense of frequency or intensity. Inwardly, I was feeling irritable because Lydia kept diving into my lap when I wanted space. Following the show, we decided to picnic outside by the playground, and I started to notice I was having some aching and cramping low in my pelvis. I tried to ignore the feeling; however, I soon realized the cramping had a defined start and stop. I felt un-phased by these contractions, and I made no mention of the change.
When they kept happening about 6 to 10 minutes apart, and I was starting to wince if I was speaking at the onset of a contraction, Merrill and Lia immediately called my bluff. I preferred to stay in denial, but Merrill started timing my contractions. We decided to wrap up our picnic and I planned to take Lydia to Lia’s house for a nap so that I could lay down to rest. I was starting to concentrate more during contractions; therefore, I felt comfortable driving ten minutes to Cottonwood, but the 35-minute drive back to Nashville seemed daunting.
At 12:10 PM, I alerted Matt that I was contracting. We decided that Lia could drive me back to Nashville once both girls went down for a nap, and he would meet me at home. Luckily, Sean was working from home and he was willing to watch them for the afternoon. I laid on the couch while Lia got both girls in bed, and the contractions continued. We started our journey toward Nashville, but we stopped for strawberry-mango smoothies along the way. I texted Libby at 1:07 PM to let her know I was having contractions, and I wanted her to meet us at the house whenever she was available. We arrived at 1:17 PM and Matt was already there with music playing and a hot bath ready. I clearly remember when I walked into our house, Matt greeted me with a huge hug and a smile. I immediately felt at peace.
At this point, I was not comfortable calling this active labor so I decided to relax in the bathtub to see if the contractions would continue. When I used the bathroom before my bath, I discovered I was losing my mucous plug. This finding left me excited as it signified that some cervical change was happening. We lit candles and played the “I am They” album as I relaxed in the tub. Matt, Libby, and Lia took turns hanging out with me and timing my contractions. I sang.. I breathed through contractions.. I prayed.. I happily ate skittles and sour patch.. I laughed.. I loved every minute of the rest and relaxation with contractions about 45 seconds long and 5 minutes apart. I was easily breathing through them while spending time with my friends.
Lia was keeping Merrill and Jennifer updated, and I assured them that the contractions were not bad and this was just early labor. Jennifer said she was going to come check on me before rush hour started and I laughed. I was happy for her to come hang out, but I figured she would be heading back home after she confirmed that my body was just warming up.
At 2:45 PM, Lia and Libby prepped our bed and I got out of the tub to relax on my birth ball. I found my happy place on top of my bed draped over my ball. Matt was massaging my back and giving counter pressure during contractions. I continued to feel calm and confident as I could sink into the ball to relax through contractions. The house started to smell amazing as Lia and Libby baked Hayes’ birthday cake. I was relishing this moment of glory where time seemed to stand still and I could feel the overflowing love filling my home.
By 3:00 PM the contractions had lengthened to a minute long and were 3-5 minutes apart. I was starting to work harder and breathe more deeply, but the rest in between felt rejuvenating. I remember feeling like I was handling this labor pattern with ease. It was a breath of fresh air to the constant back pain I endured throughout my labor with Lydia. Matt. Lia, and Libby were taking turns providing counter pressure during contractions. I was enjoying silly videos of Adair and Lydia and appreciating the conversation with some of my favorite people. At 3:49 PM I received a text from my Dad that said “what you waiting for.” As I only receive about 3 texts from my Dad a year, it made me laugh. I was just starting to believe that maybe these contractions would bring a baby. But we had not alerted our families because we assumed this was just the beginning of a long night.
Jennifer and Carissa arrived minutes later and I was excited to see their smiling faces. They decided to go ahead and set up their equipment in the dining room and then assess my progress. At 4:21, Jennifer listened for heart tones, checked my blood pressure and attempted a cervical check. Because my cervix was so posterior and high, she gently informed me that she could not make an accurate assessment, and she was not going to be forceful because it would produce unnecessary pain. She truthfully told me I was less than 5 cm. I had no real expectations at this point because the contractions were so bearable. Matt and I decided to let our family know I was in early labor, and we expected it to be awhile. He called our parents and texted our support team to keep everyone updated.
I was really comfortable on the bed, but around 4:45 PM, Lia suggested we go for a walk to get things moving along. Moving from the bed to a standing position caused a major shift in intensity. My bearable contractions were suddenly excruciating and coming quickly. I got dressed for our walk, but I could only take a few steps before another intense contraction would start. It took me 25 minutes to make it from my bed to the front door (a short distance) because I kept stopping to work through multiple, long contractions. This was getting intense and it shocked me. I could no longer relax through the contractions and I was not getting a break in between to refocus. My hips felt like they were ripping apart, but I was struggling to communicate the support I needed. All I could say was, “It won’t go away.”
When I made it to the front door, sweet Dee Dee was there to pick up our crazy vizsla and some things for Lydia to stay overnight. I could hardly manage to greet her in between contractions, but she encouraged me and told me not to worry about Lydia. She assured me she would love on her all night, and it made my heart smile in the midst of my struggle. I could feel the heat coming through the front door, and I was highly reconsidering this walk. But, at this point I felt committed. I was silently having a mental battle because if I was truly less than 5 cm, I was using far too much energy to work through contractions. Internally, I knew I needed to pull myself together and relax to make progress.
I struggled to regain my composure, but finally at 5:15 PM Matt, Lia and I managed to walk across the street before I completely broke down crying. “I don’t want to do this anymore! They won’t stop, and it hurts so bad!” I was overwhelmed and my raw emotions were spilling out of my mouth before I could contain them. Logically, I knew that self-doubt was a common sign of transition, but I did not believe it was possible I had progressed that quickly. I don’t think Matt or Lia knew how to respond considering that 45 minutes ago we assumed I was in early labor. This was unexpected behavior. When Matt looked at his phone and laughed quietly, I proceeded to lash out at him because I expected his full attention. This behavior was also out of character. It felt like an out of body experience because I could see myself acting in ways I would not imagine, yet I could not control it. I was trying to communicate to Matt that I needed to hang on him during contractions because I was struggling to stand through them, and felt like my pubic bone was breaking. I think the anger was an ineffective communication tool, but thankfully he gave me grace. Moments later, I was vomiting and then apologizing for my unsolicited irritability. With their encouragement, I proceeded to re-center myself. We made it to the first stop sign and I surrendered. That’s as far as I could push myself, and I knew we had to try something else. As we headed home, I remember seeing Libby, Jennifer, and Carissa on the front porch and it gave me great comfort. I was never scared. I just could not logically understand this bizarre labor.
When we made it back home, Jennifer said she would check me again to see if I had made enough progress to get in the tub. At 5:47 PM my cervix was 5-6 cm dilated and 90% effaced. I was excited by the progression, but the intensity remained overwhelming. I slowly made my way back to the dining room so I could get in the tub for relief. Lia had alerted Merrill on my progression sometime during our walk and she arrived at 6:00 PM. I was happy to see her as I swayed by the tub waiting for it to be the right temperature to get in. At 6:13 PM, my water broke as I was standing by the tub. I felt a POP and then baby’s head DROPPED. “Ouch!” was all I could manage to say, but I felt very in tune to what was happening inside my body.
When Jennifer told me I could, I jumped in the tub as fast as possible. With my water broken and the head engagement I felt, I knew contractions would intensify greatly. I had two contractions in the water and the urge to push suddenly overwhelmed me. At 6:16 PM Jennifer checked to see if I was complete, but I was only 8 cm. Within the next few contractions, I completely lost control. The urge to push was impossible to ignore. In fact, my body was instinctively pushing. Jennifer instructed me to blow through the contractions because it was very dangerous to push before I was completely dilated. I started freaking out, “I can’t do this…I don’t know what to do..I can’t relax…I can’t breathe..HELP me, PLEASE!” The comments go on. I needed all hands on deck because I had completely lost my coping abilities. Merrill kept reminding me I just needed to get through this one contraction, but I just kept yelling “help me” in her face. To say I was thankful for her presence is an understatement. All my body wanted to do was push. After two more contractions, I was screaming for Jennifer to check me again to see if I was complete. I was 9 cm and spontaneously trying to push. Jennifer quickly grabbed my attention. “Look at me..You are pushing…You can’t push yet.” I started crying. The pressure I was feeling was ungodly. I was squeezing Merrill’s hands as hard as I could, and in between contractions I begged Jennifer to see if I was complete. At this point, I feared every contraction. I had no ability to work through them. All I wanted to do was push this baby out. After what felt like an eternity, I was complete at 6:34 PM.
I regained control but all I could think was, “Get this baby out of me NOW!” So, I instinctively got into an upright squatting position that felt comfortable and pushed as hard as I possibly could with the next contraction. Everyone was cheering for me and I was determined to make this quick. I could easily feel the progress I was making with each push. When I was trying to push him under the pubic bone, the pain was excruciating but I knew it was almost over. After this contraction, I could feel him slide back inside, and I knew I had to push HARD. After about 3 contractions, I was sure he was close, and I asked Jennifer to help me get his head out. His broad shoulders and long body followed, and he was delivered completely OP at 6:43 PM. Matt got to catch him and pull him out of the water. At first he appeared stunned, but he soon let out one large screech to let us know he was ok. I sat down carefully and Matt placed Hayes on my chest. The relief was instant as I pulled him close, and I was completely overwhelmed with emotion as I looked up at my husband and my dream birth team surrounding the tub. I had tears streaming. They all had tears in their eyes. It was such a powerful moment.
A couple minutes later, I felt another contraction and Carissa said there was cord lengthening. So, they quickly helped me out of the tub intending to assess my bleeding and deliver the placenta on my bed. Jennifer was holding Hayes (still connected to his cord) and I followed close behind. Suddenly, there was a stream of blood and Jennifer caught my huge placenta in her bowl (amazing). I wish we had a picture or video of this scene. It surely made for a good laugh.
Matt took Hayes for some skin to skin bonding while Jennifer assessed my bleeding. I was truly amazed when she told me I had no tears. I showered almost immediately and got comfortable in my own bed. Hayes latched to breast-feed and has been eating like a champion ever since. We all enjoyed pizza and guessed Hayes’ birth stats.
9 lbs 8.5 oz and 21.5 inches of pure love. Matt and I were shocked!
The intensity of such a fast labor with a large baby is hard to put into words. However, the experience was stretching and powerful. This was a new level of surrender I had never experienced. It was life-giving. And, the second time around…it was still hard. I will forever remember the joy I saw in Matt’s face as he was genuinely excited that this experience was so positive. It birthed in me a new passion for empowering mothers..a passion so strong that I would soon make a huge career change.
I love birth. To me, it is a truly fascinating and miraculous process, complicated yet natural and instinctual; unique to every person in a sacred and spiritual way. It is raw and emotional. It challenges my innermost being. It causes me to surrender control and trust in my heavenly father. It makes me feel brave and strong. It is truly a sacrificial process. It inspires a passion within me.
Hayes, your pregnancy was a journey! It stretched me as a person and a mother. I became more confident in making decisions for myself. I gained a new passion for birth and empowering mothers. I relied on my faith and trusted my body and the birthing process. Fear was not an option. You were my hope and my inspiration! I love you, my son!
“Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast. Hebrews 6:19