I was seventeen years old when I met Rachel Neglia, and it happened to be while she was on her honeymoon. Over the following years we developed a special friendship, and it was she that first introduced me to the world of natural motherhood. Rachel exposed me to the term, “breast is best,” gave me the 101 on cosleeping, and was my first friend to have a birthing pool. But, Rachel didn’t get to use her birthing pool quite as planned.
Today Rachel will be sharing her gripping birthing story with you; it is every bit worth the read! So, grab a cup of tea, scoot in your chair, and come get to know Eoin and Rachel!
MY HOME BIRTH DREAM
For as long as I can remember, I knew I would birth my children naturally, at home. My mom has seven kids, six of whom were born at home. I “helped” deliver two of them (come on, I was like, 3 and then 9… probably not too helpful), and assisted at the births of the last two (as an actual helpful adult). So ten years ago, when my husband and I were expecting our son, I was confident in my decision to have a natural home birth in our little brick house here in Ireland.
My pregnancy progressed well, and when I finally went into labour, we lit candles and put on relaxing music while I sipped away at my all natural super labour drink concoction. My poor husband spent hours filling up the birthing pool with a kettle, as we had no hot running water (oh Ireland, I love you). My mom (an essential oil wielding LLL veteran who once helped a woman deliver a baby in a trailer in an avocado grove) had flown in the night before from California, so everything was on track for my perfect home birth.
(Pictured: Husband pumping air into the birthing pool before filling it up with a kettle)
I had been in labour for a day and a half when my midwife checked me and said the baby was in distress (meconium). I realize now that the presence of meconium in amniotic water can be perfectly normal. But in Ireland, midwives are actually under the authority of the national health care system, so they are obligated by law to take a mother to the hospital if anything at all is amiss. Suddenly, I was awakened violently from my cozy little birth plan and bundled into our beat up Volkswagen.
MY HOSPITAL REALITY
Over the course of the next few hours, I watched … as every single dream I had in regards to my labour and birth were totally dashed.”
Off we went to the hospital. And not just any hospital: we were among the very last patrons of St. Finbarr’s Maternity Hospital, a crumbling stone building which was built in the 1840s as a workhouse for the poor during the potato famine. It closed down the following year. Oh, and apparently it’s haunted too (by a the ghost of a nun), but oh well.
When I arrived, everything became a blur. Over the course of the next few hours, I watched (in a dazed sort of way) as every single dream I had in regards to my labour and birth were totally dashed. Because my water had been broken for more than 24 hours and the baby was “distressed”, the doctors insisted on speeding up my labour. At this point, I was just desperate to get my baby out. I had so much confidence in my perfect home birth plan, but I had no idea what to do in that hospital, surrounded by machines and nurses and just so out of it and quite honestly, scared. So I didn’t fight the doctor’s advice.
Pitocin led to an epidural (which was practically a swear word in my mind). The epidural meant I was relegated to my back and had to just push when I was told. I pushed for hours, and to no avail. The baby’s heart rate started dropping, so they had to get him out fast. When the vacuum didn’t work, I was quickly rushed in for an emergency c-section. Although so much of this was a blur to me, I will never ever forget the sensation when the knife (or the saw or whatever they use) was placed on my skin and I cried out, “I can feel that!!”. Immediately I was put under general anesthetic. At this point, I don’t think there was anything left of my birth plan, but if there was, it slipped away as I lost consciousness.
I woke up to a hushed discussion about my son, Eoin (an Irish name, pronounced “Owen”). We hadn’t known the gender, so once I heard his name, I knew he was a boy. My husband began to try to explain to me what had happened, but my brain was just waking up and I could barely understand what he was saying. My son had been born, but his lungs were filled with meconium, and he was unconscious. For a few minutes, he had no oxygen to his brain. He was rushed to the Special Care Baby Unit, where he was to stay for the next two weeks.
When I awoke fully, I was given a polaroid of Eoin (picture included at the top of this post). I thought he was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen. He had creamy skin and bright red hair. I remember showing that picture to all the nurses, so proud of how perfect my baby looked. When I see that picture now, I shudder. Eoin is laying on a blanket, covered in tubes; his face isn’t even visible. But at the time, that photo was everything to me, because it was the first time I had seen my son.
I finally saw Eoin in person the next day, when my husband helped carry me down the stairs (yep, no elevator in our historic hospital) to Special Care. All was not well with our son, and we weren’t even allowed to touch him for the first few days, since he was having seizures. To top it all off, we were told our son was more than likely brain damaged, due to the lack of oxygen at birth. I barely took any of this in at the time, as I was just living day to day.
I was so desperate to breastfeed. I felt like that was the last thing I had any control over. But despite pumping all day and drinking tons of milk stimulating tea, I only could get a few drops of milk. I was heartbroken when I gave Eoin his first bottle. I felt like not only had I failed him in labour and birth, but now I was failing him as he began his life. Not one thing had gone according to my plan.
HOME AT LAST
Eoin has special needs, as a result of his birth…So I have a daily reminder of all that went wrong that day.”
After two weeks, we finally came home. I had an infection which kept me in the hospital, so Eoin and I were discharged on the same day. As soon as I was home, my appetite returned, and my milk finally came in. I was able to nurse Eoin, with no bottles at all, from that day onward. Words can’t express how much that meant to me.
I guess now would be the time that I would say that all’s well that ends well, that what’s most important is that I have a healthy, happy baby. But Eoin has special needs, as a result of his birth. And although I have a beautiful, sweet son whom I love with all my heart and wouldn’t trade for anything in the world, I’m not going to pretend that I don’t wish he was perfectly well. So I have a daily reminder of all that went wrong that day. And if I let myself, I can fall victim to a million “what if”s and “if only”s.
I may not have had my perfect home birth, but I have a greater victory, and that is my son.”
My comfort and consolation is in knowing I did the absolute best I could, given my knowledge at the time. I find peace in the fact that I tried my hardest to birth my son in the most natural environment possible, and I find such joy in knowing I was finally able to breastfeed him. My “natural birth fail” doesn’t disqualify me from natural parenting, nor does it make me less of a mom. Rather it ushers me into the ranks of a million other parents who have seen their plans go awry, and have made the most of it.
And so although I can’t change the way Eoin came into this world, I’m so thankful that his birth initiated me into this beautiful journey of motherhood. I may not have had my perfect home birth, but I have a greater victory, and that is my son.
This post was shared on Simply Natural Saturdays.