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Guest post: Candi's home waterbirth story (finally!)

A few months ago, I shared with my readers Doula'ing my nephew's gorgeous home waterbirth! with photos from her birth. My sister-in-law Candi finally typed up her birth story and asked if I would share it with all of you. Isn't she thoughtful?

“For this child I prayed; and the LORD hath given me my petition which I asked of him..." 1 Samuel 1:27


I’ve thought a lot the last 10 days (there was a little break in there, now it’s been 12 weeks) about how I am going to put his birth into words. Whenever anyone asks me how it

went, I smile and say, “Perfect”. It was. For some reason, it seemed like a “textbook” birth to me…

If you are close to me, you know that the birth of our first child, Matthew, was somewhat a traumatic experience. I hope to also do a story comparing and contrasting the two, but before I do, I want to get into words the thoughts and feelings that I have of only Patrick’s birth.

We found out we were pregnant again in October. We had just had a miscarriage on September 12. We were not very surprised to find out we were pregnant again, because it was what we intended, but it was still somewhat surprising to find that my body processes were already back to “functioning normally”. We were very excited, but had decided to keep it to ourselves for a while because the hardest part about losing our baby was having to tell everyone who knew we were pregnant that we weren’t any more. I didn’t want to take that chance again. I feel like it’s revisiting the death of my child whenever I tell someone that we lost our baby before he even arrived. In case that happened again, I wanted it to be more of a private matter. After our loss, it was about six weeks before I got back to functioning “normally”, (if there ever is a “normal”) again. I still went on to work and church, and I kept it up for Matthew, but my heart was still extremely tender and I did little outside of doing what I absolutely HAD to do. I remember finally finding peace at a Jeremy Camp concert. He sang, “I still believe in Your faithfulness / I still believe in Your truth / I still believe in Your Holy Word / Even when I don't see, I still believe”. It began to become clear to me that although I didn’t understand why God would take a baby that I already loved so much and would always love, that He does have a purpose for our loss. My heart still has what feels like and empty space. I still hurt and ache for that baby, but somehow, I’ve found a way to continue on. God promises that I will see that baby someday…

As strange as it may be, being pregnant again helped me to heal more quickly as well. Of course, I was very thankful that we were able to conceive again and was able to turn the focus of my hurt away for awhile. However, I was still always very aware that something could still go wrong and we might lose this baby, too. Given that, I was determined to be thankful for all the ups and downs, emotional and physical, that come with pregnancy (and I believe that, possibly, God was testing me, because I had sixteen very difficult weeks of morning (er, allday) sickness, exhaustion, and just a general feeling of ICK—ALL THE TIME!). I was convinced that we would not ever try and get pregnant again because I didn’t think I could do it again. But, I did find some hope at around 14 weeks when I started feeling those glorious flutters of reassurance that were my baby moving to let me know that he was there! After that and knowing that I would have a chance to hear that wonderful reassuring sound of baby heartbeats over the Doppler were signs of hope to me! I looked forward to our prenatal checks and counted down the days to our due date.

We chose to have a birth center birth with Matthew. When we moved to this area and I found out there was a birth center, I was immediately excited! My mother had un-medicated, natural births with me and my two brothers 25, 20, and 18 years ago and I was determined to do the same, but I knew from all the stories that I was hearing from other mothers that the chances of having a hospital birth and NOT having an epidural, medication, or c-section were going to be slim. Maybe if it were more accessible, I would want to give in to an epidural? I don’t know. Even before I knew of birth centers and midwives, I knew that if I could help it, I did not want to have a baby in a hospital. Not to mention, I have NEVER been in a hospital other than to visit a patient or for routine care, so the thought of being in a hospital for something that is supposed to be a natural process just seemed weird to me. I had not done any research on hospital births at this time, and had even thought about having a homebirth, but that seemed a bit “scary” to me. The Birth Center was right across the road from a hospital and I felt comfortable and felt that it was going to BE a homebirth, just in a more “medicinal” setting and I let that be my comfort for those nagging what-ifs that most people have when going into pregnancy and birth. I just knew that I wanted to have our baby at the Birth Center. Before I say the following, I want to preface by saying that I know things could have been much worse, but I went in hoping for the best and hoping that my wishes would be respected. We walked in with a birth plan that was thrown out the window. I look at it now and get angry because I had in writing what I wanted, and nothing was followed. By my standards, it was a disastrous experience. It was the complete opposite of what I expected. While I didn’t end up with medication, epidural, or c-section, I ended up with tears inside and out, too many stitches to count, some hemorrhaging, and my baby was transferred separate from me where he was given vaccinations, x-rays (which I didn’t even know about until I received a bill two months later), and formula from a bottle and nipple, all without my or my husband’s consent or even consultation. This was an experience from which I needed to recover.

When we got pregnant in September 2009, we were still going to go through the Birth Center again because we felt that we were now more informed and would be more firm and able to proceed with having the Birth Plan we wanted rather than to have it thrown out the window as soon as we went into labor. I had made my first appointment there and when I started bleeding, I knew something was wrong and called immediately. It was a Saturday morning and I got the answering service. I left a message that I believed I was having a miscarriage (I had taken another pregnancy test and it was negative) and wondered if I was OK to wait it out at home, if I should just go about my day, or if I needed to head to the ER. No one has EVER called me back. When I hadn’t heard from them by the following Tuesday, I needed someone who I knew would listen. I knew of a CNM [Angy Nixon] because of a business contact of my husband and also through my sister-in-law who had three very positive birth experiences with her. I consulted with her until we were sure that all had passed normally, well, as normal as something like that can be, and that everything was back to “normal”. Not that there’s anything that feels normal about losing a baby.

So, Jon and I considered the benefits of having this baby at home. It just seemed like the next best choice. And, as it turns out, was THE BEST choice we ever made! We made it through the pregnancy with no health problems or concerns. I did test positive for GBS this time, but decided not to treat unless we were met with any risk factors (prolonged ruptured membranes, fever while in labor, etc.). Easy, easy, easy (after those first few rough weeks, anyway). Although, many of the people with which I came into contact in the last few weeks said I looked “tired” and “miserable”, I really felt good. I did have some pelvic/pubic pain, but treated with my chiropractor and was able to cope through that fairly well. I’m pretty sure I whined A LOT, though. It was hard to move or get comfortable. I would just feel searing pain in my pubic bone every time I walked, tried to turn over in bed, got up from sitting…Ugh. Not comfortable. But, I never had to take pain meds. I made it through that!

It was a little difficult for me to get to the gym (we were doing Crossfit at the time) for the first half of my pregnancy, but for the second half, I stepped it up a bit and made it more of a habit to go. I worked out with another mama expecting only a week later than me! She had her baby four days before me. We did lots of squats, lunges, walking, wall balls, pushups, rowing, etc. to keep us physically ready. I also had a lot to get over and so spent my little bit of spare time just trying to reframe and focus my thoughts on having a more positive birth experience and so read good birth and pregnancy books and watching birthing videos. In particular, I still remember one birth story that I read in “Gentle Birth Choices” about a lady who had struggled to yield to the birthing process and then while in labor, she suddenly relaxed, leaned back, and the baby just “slid out”. I got that picture into my head and that was my visualization aid when it came time to start thinking about the actual birthing process. I just started to think that when this baby came, I would just let it go and it would just slide out.

Jon and I also attended birth classes, “Well Rounded Birth Prep” given by my sister-in-law, Sarah DeGroff. Even though we’d already gone through birth once, it was three and a half years ago, and I had forgotten a lot of what to expect and what would happen. Not to mention, after our first experience, I really just wanted to start from scratch. I wanted this birth experience to be the exact opposite of what we had already been through. These classes helped us to remember that birth is a completely natural process for which a woman’s body is intended. I felt like I needed a lot of support and I found it here. Angy Nixon and Dorothy Kaeck (our other midwife) also helped to remind me that I DO need to spend time getting in my head that this was going to be a different experience. They told me that they had positive feelings about my birth, and faith in me that I could do this. We were positive this experience was going to be much better. About three weeks before my due date, I remember writing in my prayer journal, and asking God to just go ahead and prepare me for getting through this birth in case I forgot to ask Him while I was going through it! I’m pretty sure he did! He’s good like that! ;)

The night before my “due date”, July 18th, we had just finished putting up the co-sleeper at 10:30pm. It was the last thing on my “ready list”. We had decided that we were going to try a waterbirth and had rented a pool to set up in our dining room. I had this mental list of everything I wanted done to be “ready” for this baby to come and it was the last thing on it. As it turns out, looks like “change faucet” and “get birth pool ready” should have been on it as well, but I had no idea that everything would go as quickly as it did (or that it would take so long to change the faucet and fill the pool)! Ah! Anyway, we got up early on Sunday and went to church. I told our choir director that I would sing a few solos that morning in hopes that if I made plans to sing, that I wouldn’t be there and would have had the baby by then. But, nevertheless, I prepared and practiced two songs to sing (which I threw out at the last minute—ha) and sang anyway. After church, we went to eat together as a family, and went to Lowe’s to get a new faucet (the one that was currently on our sink would not allow us to hook up a hose and was about the bite the dust anyway) and a new hose to fill up the pool. We went home. Jon mentioned that he wanted to go up to the gym and do a solo workout and I had decided that I was just going to lay around (I’d already taken a week off work, but spent it doing way too much and didn’t rest). I curled up in bed to watch a movie around 2. At 3:10, I felt my first “real” contraction. I’d had toning contractions starting at 22 or 23 weeks. Exactly 20 minutes later, I had another that went clear across my belly and into the tops of my legs—exactly how labor with Matthew started. I told Jon that he’d better go get his workout in and the faucet changed because we may have some action this evening. He left and I had three more contractions, exactly 20 minutes apart, while he was gone. I was able to move around as normal between them and really only just stopped to breathe slowly through these light contractions. I also wanted to spend some last minute one-on-one time with Matthew and was already getting hungry and was going to cook dinner. TACOS! Jon got home from the gym and started on the faucet while I cooked dinner. We downloaded an app to his iPhone to time contractions. We played a few games on the Wii and spent a last few minutes together, just the three of us. I sent Angy a text message just to give her a heads up that things may pick up, but honestly, I really was skeptical that I was going into actual labor. I scarfed down THREE tacos. I never do that and looking back, I guess that maybe my body knew something my head didn’t and was preparing to store up a little energy to get me through the next few hours.

We called our parents to let them know we may be in labor, but again, I still didn’t think that this would be it. I called Josie, our babysitter, to let her know I was having contractions, but didn’t think this was it yet, but wanted to put her on notice. I told everyone that I would call them back at 8 to let them know IF things were progressing. I played with Matthew a bit and then went back and got into our tub to try and see if sitting in a warm tub would make the contractions stop. They didn’t. Jon and I decided that rather than me having to say, “Honey! I’m having another contraction! Start the timer!” (he was in the kitchen working on the faucet), we’d just have a code word. We’d just watched “Four Christmases” and decided that our word would be “Misletoe”. So, as funny as it was, I found myself yelling “Mistletoe!” pretty frequently, about every 6-7 minutes. I felt silly, and it gave me something to laugh about while I was getting through contractions. By now, it was 7. It was starting to get pretty intense, so I called Josie to have her come get Matthew. Jon got him ready and I just sat in the tub some more. I had decided to put on a sports bra before I got in the tub since soon there may be people walking around the house (we were expecting both our moms and my best friend to be at our birth, plus Jon, me, and the two midwives). I sat in the tub until about 8 and was getting excited by the fact that labor was NOT going away. Now, I was just waiting to hit that 5-1-1 mark (contractions 5 minutes apart, lasting for 1 minute and this going on for 1 hour). Jon came in and asked if I wanted him to call Sarah to come sit with me since he couldn’t (he was done with the faucet and was setting up the birth pool, and guess what! Our new faucet wouldn’t take the hose either, even with an adapter, and even if it would have, we’d probably still be trying to fill the pool with it!). I initially said, no, just because I knew we were already going to have so many people there and I really just wanted it to be an intimate thing with just me and him. BUT, then I was thinking that I really couldn’t go through this by myself any more, and if there is anyone in this world who knows how to get through childbirth, it’s Sarah! I told him that even if she could just come while he was filling the pool, that would be great. Thinking back on that, though, that seems pretty silly. Telling Sarah to just come for labor and not the birth itself would be like taking a kid to a candy store and a pocket full or money and telling them they couldn’t buy anything! But, it all went so fast after this any way, that the paparazzi could have been there and I wouldn’t have noticed or cared.

We called our parents to let them know that it looked like we were going to have a baby soon. I had also called Angy while I was cooking dinner to let her know that I thought it may be progressing, but I still hadn’t updated her in all this time. I made my way out to the living room and sat on my birth ball with a towel. I had two contractions on the way there (and, if you’ve been to our house, you know that it’s only about 15 feet from one point to the other). I STILL wasn’t convinced this was real labor. When is it going to sink in?! I asked Jon to get me something to cover up with (a nightgown? Something?) right as Sarah was walking through the door. Then, I figured, who cares? I’m sitting on a birth ball and had a bra on. No one could see anything except my stretch marks. Sarah came right over to me and said, “Uh, have you called Angy yet?” I told her that we hadn’t because I still wasn’t at the 5-1-1 mark yet. She said something to the effect of “I think we’re past that point”. I was sitting naked on a birth ball and moaning through contractions, after all. She called Angy for me. After this, it went so fast, some of the details are fuzzy. I remember Sarah sitting beside me using light touch on my lower legs, reminding me to relax my jaw, to use low sounds rather than high-pitched ones when coping through a contraction. I threw up. There was heat on my back, rubbing on my back, quiet whispers, etc. I also remember Jon’s phone ringing in the middle of it all. His ringtone at the time was “The Final Countdown”. Very inspirational! Teehee. All this helped me get through and made it not seem so hectic, not it seems like a blur. I had no idea what was going on around me, I was just trying to stay focused on getting through this rough part. I know it did now because I had five hours of pretty slow and easy labor, but it just seemed like it didn’t build up nice and slow, the hard contractions just kept coming all at once and very fast. I didn’t feel like I was getting any relief between contractions. I just kept bouncing on the ball and trying to get through each contraction, but all I could think about was how much further I had to go! I felt a little panicky. My water hadn’t broken yet. The pool was nowhere close to being full (they finally ended up filling it up with the outside hose and then ferrying hot water from the stove and faucet). I kept thinking that I may just go get back in my own tub and have him there! Angy and Dorothy arrived very shortly after Sarah called and Angy checked the heartbeat with the Doppler. She asked if I wanted her to check my cervix to see how things were progressing. I didn’t see how I was going to get from the birth ball into a position where she could check me, so I declined. It just sounded like too much work right then, and I was going through too much to even think about it. I believe this is where Dorothy took over filling the pool for Jon and he was finally able to come be with me. I remember leaning on him and then I had to pee. It took me several contractions to get back to the bathroom and I dreaded it anyway. Every time I peed, I ended up with a very strong contraction. After this, though, I felt like I was at a point where Angy could check me to see where we were headed, but I told her that I may get discouraged if she did and we weren’t that far along yet. She assured me that she has a good poker face, so I decided that we’d go ahead and see. I got into our bed and she checked and said that we are at 7, almost 8 centimeters! Yay! That sounded like good progress to me (also, this was the only time I was “checked” my entire pregnancy! I love that option—who wants that on purpose anyway?!)! At this point, though, I needed a break. I lay down and Jon was there with me. I didn’t want him to hold me or touch me, but just wanted him there. I was able to sleep in between three or four contractions. I remember the last one in particular. Sarah had given me a comb to put between clenched fists to try and take my mind off the pain in my belly and focus on clenching that comb as hard as I could. I must have dropped it somewhere in the bed, because I remember feeling that last contraction coming on and I could tell it was going to be very tough to get through and I was feeling (maybe flailing is a better word?) around on the bed trying to find it and I think Jon thought I was going to tear apart the bed trying to find it! That contraction brought me up out of the bed. The chux pad that was on the bed where Angy had just checked me fell right between my legs on the floor in just the right place and landed right under my feet. Right then, my water broke. This was something I didn’t get to experience with Matthew. It was…a weird sensation. I wasn’t really sure what just happened. I remember telling Angy that either I just peed or my water just broke. She assured me that my water broke and to be prepared because things may start getting very intense. I started making my way out to the pool. It took me a while. I remember stopping a few times in the hallway to just hold on to anything to help me out. I hung on Jon’s shoulders, I leaned on him, and I squeezed him. He may have taken a little abuse…but not much! I think by then that the pool was FINALLY ready for me to get in (next time around, maybe I’ll be a bit more concerned with getting it filled early…I don’t think we really accounted for how long that would take. Actually, I know we didn’t. Ugh. Eh, well, it all worked out).

Anyway, here’s the good stuff. I finally got in the pool. Everyone there worked hard to make sure that pool was filled enough and warm enough. I got in, and it was PERFECT. Let me tell you, they don’t call it a water-dural for nothing. OH, it was niiiice. I felt so much relief just from getting in the pool. I was instantly able to relax, a little. For a minute. While I was starting to feel like I was ready, my mom and my best friend, JoAnna came in. They had driven from Fairmont after we called at 8 to let them know this looked like the real thing. I remember feeling like I should say something to them (I didn’t even say “hi”. I was pretty pre-occupied, though, I’m sure they forgive me). I went through a lot of mental changes in these last few minutes. I know I said a lot of “I can’t do this any more” and “I don’t want to do this any more”, pretty much whining just to hear someone say that I COULD do this. Angy reminded me that I needed to change my mind-set to I CAN. And, I knew I could, but sometimes it helps just to hear someone tell you, you can. Sarah kept reminding me that I would be holding my baby by the time it was bedtime. Jon kept telling me that he loved me and he was proud of me. My mom and JoAnna were cheering for me. These are all the things that kept me going. Then, I felt this weird sensation. Pressure…like maybe there was a baby descending? I kept changing positions in the pool, from squatting, being on my knees, being on all fours. I was on my knees, leaning over the side of the pool when I felt like I needed to push. I pushed a little and then changed positions. I remember being in what would seem like this awkward lunging, leaning position…but, it seemed natural at the time. I don’t even know WHAT you would call the position I was in and starting pushing a little. I really don’t recall it as pushing as just letting the baby take the lead. I just kept changing positions from lunging, to squatting and let him descend. All this time, Angy and Dorothy kept checking his heart tones. They always sounded great and healthy. I remember Angy asking if I could feel the head crowning. I felt down between my legs, but did not feel a head. A few little pushes later and THEN I felt his head coming through! His head was delivered and the cord was wrapped loosely around his neck two times. Angy looped it over his head. I felt IMMENSE pressure and burning, and then I felt his little body coming down. I felt his whole body come out and then I saw him slide out into the water. He floated up a little and I saw his eyes open under the water and Angy and I both reached down to catch him. He was so beautiful. I will never forget how he looked that night. I held him and covered him with a towel (they heated them in the dryer—isn’t that a great idea?!). I tried getting him to nurse, but he just wasn’t interested yet. We wanted to delay cord clamping until it stopped pulsating, which surprisingly did not take very long. His cord was very long. I was able to hold him and let Daddy hold him and could not even feel a tug on the cord. I remember looking in the water for blood…there wasn’t any! I didn’t even tear. I was still having contractions because the placenta hadn’t been delivered yet and that was bugging me. I remember standing up and Dorothy was helping me and it finally just slid out. It was intact and looked healthy (not that I’ve ever really inspected one, but it didn’t look bad!). Then, I got out of the pool, went back and took a shower, put on my nightgown, climbed in my own bed with soft sheets and a warm blanket, and nursed my new baby until he fell asleep. It was amazing. It was so amazing, I find myself wondering what the next time will be like. I feel so much more empowered now and so strong. I’ve done this in the worst of circumstances and in the best. I could do this any time! My labor was a little more than 8 hours (had my first contraction at 3:10 and Sean Patrick DeGroff was born at 11:25pm), only about three hours were hard labor. He weighed 7 lbs 14 oz and was 21 ½ inches long. He was pink and round and gorgeous!

I am so thankful for everyone who made my experience wonderful. Angy and Dorothy reassured me that I could do this. Jon was everything I needed right when I needed him. Sarah helped me to remember to relax and let my body do what it’s made to do. Mom and JoAnna were my cheerleaders. Not only did they arrive so quickly, but they also fetched me stuff and fed me and stayed with me off and on for the first few weeks. I feel like I could write pages and pages, but I think 7 is enough. For now.

Candi (Chandra) DeGroff

Thank you so much, Candi, for sharing your story with us (at last!). It's wonderful to hear it first-hand.

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