How To Get A Ride In An Ambulance When You’re Not Sick: An Unplanned Home Birth Story

[This is a story with detail, most of which I felt must be included, and plenty of photos. Read at your leisure, or just skip through the photos if you’re like, “I don’t want to know everything. Sheesh.” Thank you for reading.]

It was just after four on a surprisingly chill April morning. Blue and red lights spun frantically atop emergency vehicles parked in the street in front of a simple one-story home. The front door swung open, and soon, a gurney clanked down the steps and across the drive, and an emergency crew hoisted the snugly-covered body into the back of the ambulance. A small train of people followed the stretcher, one man carrying a tight swaddling of blankets close to his chest. He climbed into the ambulance next to the stretcher. The emergency crews snapped the doors shut behind them.

If you were awake in my neighborhood a week and a half ago, this is the sight that probably woke you two hours before your alarm. If you were worried, you didn’t have to be. No one was sick, injured or dying. I was on the stretcher, but I was fine. I just had a baby. At home.

I never planned a home birth. Well, maybe that’s obvious. I would’ve considered it had my husband not firmly ruled it out with his concern about the possibility of, you know, anything going wrong. He felt more comfortable in the hospital, and although I feel like birth is pretty much the only way people get to earth, making it, like, the most normal thing anyone could do, I never felt so adamant about home birth to push the issue. There were enough stories of birth gone wrong for me to see his point. So I obliged. We planned a hospital birth. Like last time.

Except I didn’t want my birth be anything like last time, which you can read about here, if you want.

Three and a half years ago when my son was born, I knew nothing about birth. I didn’t understand how fragile my body would be, or how much I needed to invest in my emotional and physical self before the experience. I assumed I’d handled enough pain in my life. I figured all the stories about ungodly agony were exaggerations, battle stories women tell around our proverbial campfires.

Wrong.

The labor with my first son started on a Saturday morning, with the world’s slowest windup, ending in my his birth nearly 48 hours later. I was exhausted. Everything went wrong. Or at least it felt that way. My slow, swaying, ball bouncing, hippie birth vanished after dehydration and much slower progress than I expected. I somehow turned down an epidural in the midst of the worst pain of my life, but the experience left me saying, “Never again”. Not that I wouldn’t give birth again, and I decided I would even go natural. But I learned everything I could about what went wrong and swore I would do it differently.

This second birth was a second chance. Perhaps I leaned too heavily on one experience to redeem the trauma of the first time, but I’ve seen God redeem less significant events. And I know he is heavily involved in how his kids get earth side.

So on April 4, I made this list of everything I wanted to go differently. I told a few friends about it, that I was placing an order with heaven, although some of it would be my responsibility. Here’s what I planned and requested:

    • Practice relaxation so I know how to do it in the moment
    • Drink more water
    • Elicit help from my husband
    • Call my doula sooner (ask for help sooner – don’t try to be a bada** and do it alone)
    • Wear my own clothes
    • Delay going to the hospital
    • Breathe
    • Know my body was made for this
    • Expect rest and grace at just the right time
    • Know the hardest part is right before the delivery
    • Remind myself I am not alone. I am never alone.
    • Voice my opinion – delayed cord clamping, no interventions unless medically emergent, talk to me first.
    • Stand up for my baby if I want to
    • Go home sooner
    • Take fewer visitors
    • Labor with water intact if at all possible

Leading up to the birth was much whining to friends and arguing with God about my lack of control over the timing of the birth. But I finally started what I suspected could be labor on a Thursday. Having had a false alarm earlier in the week, I had no desire to cry wolf on labor again. My doula said I should assume it’s not labor until I am “dang uncomfortable”. Got it.

So despite contractions, I worked all day and made a chiropractic appointment for the evening. Act normal.

The contractions gently escalated through the evening, and I mentioned to my husband in passing, “I have to breathe through them now”. But I didn’t make a big deal. I knew better. I wasn’t “dang uncomfortable” yet so I determined to play it cool.

Around 8:30, John and Josh worked on what was supposed to be a family event: making Easter eggs. I bailed on them and retreated to the bedroom to lay down and breathe. I didn’t mention where I was going, or the fact that this was probably “the real deal”. I didn’t know so I kept quiet.

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Yes, I took an early labor selfie. No judging. Like a good journalist, I wanted to document the entire experience. This was the only one I got.

But around 9ish, I caved on playing it cool and called the Grandmas to say, “I’m afraid to call it, but I am calling it. I think we’re having a baby. Probably some time late morning or mid-day tomorrow.”

I laid on my side in my bed, hugging my body pillow and reciting the mantras I’d rehearsed. I breathed as slowly and deeply as I could, reminding myself not to fight the pain. “Your body’s not trying to hurt you. You’re doing hard work. Release the pain, receive the peace.”

But between contractions, I fantasized about an epidural. I figured if I went to the hospital dilated only halfway, I would have to get one. It was just too intense. I wasn’t strong enough.

I kept the mantras going, a sort of anchor, and when it got really bad, I imagined baby on my chest, labor behind me, and I forced myself to smile and say, “It’s gonna be worth it.” (Yes, I smiled during labor, but people have done crazier things, I suppose.)

Around 1am, I sent my doula, Rachel, a text. “Dang uncomfortable” had arrived, and I needed her to come with her peaceful presence and knowledge of laboring positions. My mom arrived just before Rachel, also bringing her characteristic peace.

Contractions got closer and closer, less rest between them, but I wasn’t timing them. Despite the pain, I kept a focus I didn’t know I had, along with deep, down to my ankles, breathing. I had a few girlfriends and my momma praying and I know that made a difference. I could feel the prayer lifting me up this time.

So I stayed. And kept staying. Kept breathing. One contraction at a time. Until they all melted together into one long, intense contraction.

And then, at 2:45am, my water broke. He was coming, head bearing down strong. Oh. So I must be fully dilated. No wonder those contractions felt so intense, I thought. Perhaps I downplayed them a bit too much.

I wasn’t too sure how that baby was going to get out cause I was still on my side, in my bed, hugging my body pillow for dear life. All of a sudden I knew I couldn’t move. Josh and my doula leaned toward me on either side of the bed to discuss our change of plans.

“Well, you can try to make it the hospital,” my doula offered, “but you risk having him in the car. Or you can call the EMTs.”

Josh smiled reassuringly. “Let’s do it,” he said, meaning we should make a run for the hospital. I couldn’t think of a thing I wanted less than a bumpy car ride as a child pushed out of me. In that moment, I knew this just became a home birth. “I can’t move. Can you call the EMTs?”

Around 3am, an emergency team poured into the bedroom.

There were eight of them, seven male paramedics and firemen in tats and overalls, and one female who I was very, very happy to see. Nearly all of them were in their mid-twenties. With me, my doula and Josh, there were 11 people in our tiny room.

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Blurry action shot. Lots of action. This was only half of them, but the guys in the foreground, John (left) and Austin (right), were the key players. Remember them. 🙂

“Do you all really need to be in here?” I barked in my most assertive voice as the herd rounded the corner and filled out the room. Two of them sheepishly ducked out right then, but soon ended up back in the room.

But honestly, I didn’t really care if I every paramedic in Riley County saw my lady parts. I was having a freaking baby. I needed to save the energy for birth, not maintaining dignity.

Yet I quietly wondered how many births these guys had attended. Bet they called some of the newbies in so they could see a real live home birth, I smirked to myself at some point. But I am the oldest child so I am cool with being experimented on. As long as someone knows what they’re doing. Please.

Someone did.

The paramedic with a grey beard was named John. His black fleece said he was the Captain, and I decided that meant he might know what he was doing. A younger fellow who was probably my age told me his name was Austin. He took charge of the operation and stood on my right, with Josh holding my right hand and pressing his other hand on my back to counter the pressure.

The baby kept coming, as babies being born tend to do, but I wasn’t making the progress I hoped. Pushing hurt, and I knew what that pain was doing to me, that bladder control might soon be a by-gone luxury. But it was necessary. So I leaned back and gave it my best shot.

John told me I could squeeze his hand as hard as I needed to, and I took him up on it. All my unlikely cheerleaders surrounding the bed applauded any forward movement baby made, and Austin would always say, “You’re doing really good. We just need one more good push here.” He said it a lot though, so I figured maybe we were evaluating success differently.

Finally, at half past three, baby emerged, and with gusto. He shot out, head and shoulders at once, and they handed his fat, slippery body to me as I pulled him onto my chest. Maybe the room erupted in celebration or maybe it went dead quiet. I don’t know. I clutched my tiny prize close and smiled big, me and the baby in our own world. It was worth it.

Josh smiles appropriately, but I'm thinking, "OMG, I just had a baby at home!"
Josh smiles appropriately, but I’m thinking, “OMG, I just had a baby at home!”

The EMTs didn’t fight me a bit when I asked for delayed cord clamping, and they let baby stay with me while they did his check-up to rule out jaundice and all that other stuff. I was happily surprised.

I still didn’t want to move, mostly because of the pain, but they finally got me out of the room and onto a stretcher in the living room.

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I insisted on a picture of the world’s largest birthing team. Everyone obliged me. Do I look tired? That’s because I was.

The drive to the hospital was short but bumpy, as I suspected, and I was thankful the baby was on my chest and not in my loins for this ride.

Once we got to the hospital, I realized that some people thought having an accidental home birth was a little wacky and irresponsible. One of the nurses asked if I was scared, as if that was a given. I never was. I sort of thought having a home birth on accident made me a bada** because I must have a really high pain tolerance or something. Nevertheless, it’s my story. And as I told my friends over text about how he got here, they said, ” Of course, Sarah. That’s so you.”

Indeed it was.

Once we got to the hospital, I realized something else was happening to me: a crazy oxytocin high, which I later compared to rolling ecstasy, although I have never tried it. (No, really.) Ecstasy makes you love everyone because of this giant oxytocin dump in the brain caused by the drug, and that’s pretty much how it felt. I told all the EMTs how great they were, and how much I appreciated everyone. I gushed to my nurse, Mary, that she was so maternal and she needed a raise. Pretty much if you walked within five feet of me, you were going to get a compliment. So if you’re into love drugs and other things like that, skip the epidural and wait it out – you will get this. Pretty awesome.

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This is my amazing doula, Rachel, who was my birth attendant for both births. I was the lucky girl who got to be her last birth before she transitions into life as a midwife. Maybe she will be my midwife next time…. 🙂

Baby and me checked out just fine when we arrived. Only not-so-good part: it took over an hour and six shots of Lidocaine to stitch me up. And that’s all we need to say about that. But, ouch!

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Aw, look at his fat little self. Adorbs.

My OB, whom I just love, was the doctor on call that night. I couldn’t believe it because I wanted her to deliver me, and although I didn’t make it in time, she was still there to help with all the post-birth stuff. What good fortune. I got the birth I requested, item by item, even though it didn’t look a bit like I imagined. God, you are such a jokester.

We invited a few family members to visit. John met his little brother, and he loved him right away. It was all the magic I hoped.

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Aawww. My boys.

We went home before 36 hours was up. I didn’t want to stay long.

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First (or maybe second) sleep in his big boy bed. Look how teeny he is.

And so we all began the work of getting to know each other.

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The dudes, just hanging out.

I adore this one for so many reasons. I am far more knowledgable and patient, and he is calm and understanding. We just hang out. It’s a very different experience from my first labor and the weeks following. I am taking care of myself much better, as I realized that whole “ounce of prevention” proverb is actually true.

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We stay home a lot and eat the food our friends cook for us. We soak up the love and slowness of the hibernation season. I am thankful for the few weeks I have with my boys, and I try hard not to imagine the heartbreak of leaving them in just over a month.

But I am a mommy, and we mommies do strong things for our babies. Sometimes it’s staying home with them, and sometimes it’s working away from them. Both require their own kind of love and strength.

I am so proud of how the birth turned out, how I kept calm and stayed focused, even when it got difficult. I will never be a loud and preachy natural birth advocate because I don’t want anyone to feel their experience was illegitimate somehow. Hardly. But this choice I’ve made twice helps me view myself as powerful and capable of doing the hardest thing I can think of. I see that not only is my body capable, but my mind is strong. What can I not do, with the help of God, my man and my friends?

So should you have an accidental home birth with the county paramedics as your delivering physicians? It’s up to you. But if I could review the experience on Yelp, I think I would give it 5 stars.

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9 thoughts on “How To Get A Ride In An Ambulance When You’re Not Sick: An Unplanned Home Birth Story

  1. Great story! Great job, mama! I cannot imagine having all those extra people hanging out! Rachel was my doula for my first homebirth and would have been midwife’s assistant for my second had I not moved 10 hours away 🙂

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    1. Really? How cool. Rachel is perfect for this mama stuff. I am so glad I got to have her twice. Bummer you had to move – I hope you got to have someone just as great for your second.

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  2. Sarah-What an amazing birth story. I can just see you sharing this story with your son and his future family every birthday! What’s not to love! Of course each year you can embellish details a bit:) Enjoy your precious family this next month!

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    1. Judy, it makes for great storytelling, I agree. I’m sure the tale will grow taller with time. Unfortunately anyone can fact check it with this post. 🙂 Oh well.

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