The en caul homebirth of Abigail Grace
We love it when our clients share their birth stories with you! First time mom Lauren captured her amazing homebirth story of her daughter. Special thanks to our doula Tara H. for her support of this amazing family of 3! Read on for mom's first hand account of her birth. Congratulations Lauren and Ervin!
"On Friday March 5th, I was 41 weeks and 3 days pregnant. At that point, I had lost track of the number of times people that had asked if Abigail was here yet. Both my friend Hailey (due two weeks before me) and my cousin Megan (due three weeks after me) went into labor early, leaving me the only one of us without a baby. That afternoon I finished up my last day of work, tied up all of the loose ends of the Piedmont project and notified HR that I would begin maternity leave the following Monday. I finished my taxes, cleaned up the house and took an afternoon nap. That evening, my husband Ervin and I went to my parent’s house for dinner. Mom made her cheesy mushroom casserole and dad grilled steaks for Ervin. We enjoyed the beautiful weather while eating dinner out on the lanai.
Throughout the day I noticed that I had been having more frequent Braxton Hix contractions and during dinner they seemed to become more noticeable. On the way home, we stopped at Cape Creamery for ice cream – Ervin got his favorite chocolate shake and I got chocolate raspberry truffle. When we got home, we settled for the night, not knowing what it would hold for our family. I had my first real contraction at 1:52 in the morning. It was exciting to feel the difference, so I asked Ervin to begin timing them.
Initially they were coming about 5 minutes apart – by 3:30 they were closer to 4 minutes apart – at 7:00 they were coming every 3 minutes. The contraction timer app started telling us it was time to go to the hospital. Since we were planning a home birth, I decided to call my doula Tara instead to give her a heads up. She started getting ready and arrived at our house around 8:30. I also called my mom to have her come over. After she had waited so long to receive the call that I was in labor, I found it funny she didn’t hear her phone. I ended up calling my dad and asked him to let her know the news. During these early contractions, one thing that helped me cope was holding onto a hair comb. By feeling the sharp sensation on my thumb, it helped to distract my mind from the sensation of the contraction.
Once Tara arrived, she helped us to perform some different spinning babies techniques in order to help the baby engage. We started with a lift and tuck (Ervin would lift up my belly during each contraction while I tilted my pelvis forward). We also did some side-lying releases, contractions on the birth ball and later she encouraged me to walk around the dining room table in between contractions. This went on into the early afternoon, but as the day went on my contractions became less consistent. Around 2pm we made the decision for Tara to go home while I continued to labor, knowing that things would probably pick up again in the evening when oxytocin levels naturally increase. One thing I remember about that day is that it rained all day long. The sound of the raindrops on the roof was very southing as a labored through the day. The other thing that made me feel better was having Ervin there through it all. Just having him close by made me feel safe and loved. I also used heat pads and a tens unit to help me get through the contractions. Feeling any other physical sensation really helped to distract my brain.
As Saturday was turning into Sunday my contractions started becoming more consistent. We called Tara to come back and I texted my midwife Deborah to let her know as well. While they were both in route, I vomited and began to feel shaky. In my head I recognized these as signs of transition, the end was in sight! When Deborah arrived around 1:30 in the morning, she asked to check my dilation. I agreed, wanting to know how close I was to the pushing stage. When she was finished, she asked if I wanted to know the number and I said yes. Three centimeters was her response. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I was so discouraged; after almost 24 hours of labor I was at 3cm. Hailey had started labor already dilated to 3! Part of me wanted to cry but I knew that wouldn’t change anything. The only thing I could do was continue to move forward one contraction at a time. Deborah went home and said that she would check in on me in the morning. Tara stayed in our guest bedroom. I tried to get some rest in between contractions through the night, which was difficult because they seemed so much more intense when I was laying down.
Around seven o’clock on Sunday morning, I texted Tara to wake her up and ask for her support. The contractions were even more intense and consistent and my body was sore from the long effort. I never felt like any one contraction was too much for me to handle but rather the long duration of my labor made my entire body sore. Tara suggested we do another round of the side-lying releases and lunges on each side during contractions. At this point, it felt like she was asking me to decide to suffer more since these positions made the contractions more uncomfortable. At that point though, I knew that it could help expedite the process, so I chose the discomfort even though my whole body wanted to resist. After the side-lying releases I felt a small gush of water release. Finally my body was confirming to me that it was progressing. I also had bloody show at some point later that morning. Deborah was planning to come over after she got out of church. When she was on her way, Ervin started working on filling up the birth pool.
Deborah arrived in the early afternoon. She checked me again and I held my breath, praying that I was close this time. She said I was at 9.5 cm (basically that I was fully dilated but there was a slight cervical lip blocking the baby from entering the birth canal). At this point, Deborah called her assistant Naomi and my mom called our friend Danielle to come over to be ready to take pictures of the birth. Deborah encouraged me to try laboring on the toilet for a while. Once there, I had more bloody show and I started having the urge to push during contractions. Due to these signs, Deborah gave me the green light to get into the birth pool and start pushing when my body told me to.
The warm water of the birth pool felt like heaven. It was set up in our bedroom and I had created a birth wall that had my birth affirmations, Bible verses and birth art from our Birthing from Within class. Initially, pushing felt weird – like short intense bursts of bearing down. In the pool I began to lose track of time. I was aware that Danielle had arrived. At a certain point I began feeling so tired in between contractions that while on my hands and knees, my face fell in the water. After that, Ervin held out his hands and held my head up whenever I leaned forward. Tara stood behind me and got a towel for me to use as a pillow between contractions. Eventually, Deborah came back into the bedroom and wanted to check me because it had been three hours. I had no idea I had been in the tub that long.
When she checked me this time, she realized that the cervical lip was still in fact keeping Abigail’s head from descending. Again, I felt defeated that all of the pushing I just did had not gotten me any closer to having a baby. There was a plan of action though. Deborah had me stay on my back, have Ervin hold one leg and Tara hold the other. She instructed me that I would need to push during my next contraction while she manually moved the lip out of the way. We did this for the next couple of contractions, and while it didn’t feel pleasant, it did teach me how to push correctly. Deborah and Tara were able to coach me to push like I was pooping and to hold it longer than I had been in the pool and I could really feel the difference.
Now it was early evening - I hadn’t eaten anything all day. My mom and Danielle got me some berries and chicken noodle soup. Although there was nothing in my stomach, the last thing I wanted to do was eat. So I slowly took bites between contractions standing up and bracing myself on the kitchen table. Meanwhile, Ervin was in the bedroom draining and deflating the birth pool since I was done using it. After eating all that I could, Ervin and I went to labor on the toilet again.
In the bathroom, I reached my lowest point. I was exhausted and tired of being in pain. I felt like the end was never coming after thinking it was close so many times before. I could see concern in Ervin’s eyes as well. Although I didn’t know what time it was, I noticed that the sun had gone down. We started talking about transferring to the hospital. In my head I kept going back and forth, knowing that going to the hospital could mean it would take even longer to deliver or I could end up with a cesarean. But I was so tired and I wanted to escape from my body. I didn’t feel like I had enough strength left inside of me to go on. Ervin and I agreed to talk to Deborah about transferring. When we came out of the bathroom, Deborah met us in the bedroom and said, “I think it’s time we had a conversation.” I guess she had been having the same talk with Naomi and Tara in the living room. We started talking but somewhere along the way I mentioned that I had pooped a little in the bathroom. Immediately Deborah said that changed everything, because it meant the baby was moving down in the birth canal. She checked me again and could feel Abigail’s head about half a finger from the entrance of my vagina.
The energy in the room changed. Suddenly, Tara was there asking me to chug chicken broth. I started walking around the bedroom and standing for contractions. I found a spot between the bed post and my dresser where I could brace one hand on each side and really bear down with all my strength. Theses contractions felt different. I could start to feel Abby’s head moving down inside of me but it also felt like my butt hole was coming out of itself. After a series of contractions in this position, Deborah suggested I move onto hands and knees to finish pushing. Someone got the birth ball and covered it with a soft blanket for me to lean over. Tara was in front of me holding my hands as I pushed, while Deborah and Ervin were behind me waiting to catch Abigail.
Now, each time I pushed I could feel Abigail’s head moving down the birth canal inches at a time. Then in between, while I was resting, she would slide back up. Deborah said pushing is two steps forward and one step back – now I understood what she meant. At a certain point, I began to feel pressure and burning on my vagina. Tara saw that I was holding back from the discomfort and encouraged me to push past that point. While I was focused on pushing, Deborah was monitoring the baby’s heart rate in between pushes. I didn’t realize that as Abby began to crown, her heart rate dropped slightly. After the next set of pushing, Deborah couldn’t find the heart rate with the Doppler. Another push came and went and she tried again without success. Ervin heard her mention to Naomi to get the scissors ready because she may need to perform an episiotomy to get the baby out quickly. Being an ultrasound tech himself, and trained to find blood flow using Doppler, Ervin jumped into action. By God’s grace he was able to find the heart rate by using Doppler on the placenta – Abby’s heart rate was normal! When he told me what happened the next day, I was so grateful that he helped to spare me from that. He will forever be my hero!
After many rounds of pushing, Abigail’s head was born. The pressure and release was like nothing I have ever felt before. It was such a relief! I felt the ring of fire but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I was expecting. I knew we were close! Behind me I heard the midwife remarking that the head was still in the amniotic sac and how rare that was. I began to feel the next contraction coming and with two big pushes, Abigail was born. The sac ruptured and a few seconds later, I heard her cry. It was done! I had actually done it! I was so relieved and amazed. Ervin passed her in between my legs and Tara wrapped her in a warm towel. We looked into each other’s eyes, both in amazement. I couldn’t believe my baby was here! She was beautiful! Ervin held her as Deborah helped me onto our bed. He laid Abigail on my chest and they covered me with a blanket. I began to shake uncontrollably from the hormonal shift, but that subsided within a few minutes. Then I got to spend the next forty-five minutes cuddling Abby, looking at all of her little features. Ervin kissed me. We were a family now. We had made a new life together.
My job wasn’t completely over though. Now it was time to birth the placenta. Deborah instructed me to push as she gently pulled on the umbilical cord. After two or three pushes, it was out. She and Naomi inspected it and put it into a bowl. She pushed on my abdomen and almost a liter of blood came out. That was another very odd feeling. Abigail was moved onto Ervin’s bare chest, and I slowly made my way to the shower. My mom helped me wash my hair as I sat on the shower’s ledge. It felt so good to be clean after two long days of labor. I got dressed in my nursing nightgown and joined Ervin and Abby back in our bed. Tara helped me nurse Abigail for the first time. It definitely felt awkward at first. I felt like I didn’t know how to hold her properly. With some tips and assistance, she latched on.
After nursing, Deborah took Abigail and completed her newborn assessment. She weighed and measured her – 6 pounds 8 ounces and 20 inches long. She checked her reflexes and evaluated her APGAR score. She even showed us the placenta and how strong her amniotic sac was. She shared that Abigail was the first baby she had ever witnessed to be born en caul or in the amniotic sac. We looked it up and realized that it only occurs in only 1 in 80,000 births and is sometimes called a mermaid birth. It is said that children born this way are very special. I specifically remember Deborah telling Abigail, “God has a mighty plan for your life” as she was accessing her. Being born this way also protected her from my GBS bacteria, reduced the risk of meconium aspiration, and kept her from getting a cone head in the birth canal. Finally, Deborah gave us discharge instructions and took her leave. Mom and Danielle said their goodbyes after we thanked them for all of their help and support during the birth. Then Ervin, Abigail and I went to sleep for the first time as a family – safe and sound at home. God had certainly blessed and protected us that day. I was grateful for all of the prayers that had been said over us by so many. My heart was full <3"
Authored by Lauren C, mom of baby Abigail Grace