Another fabulous, and very in-depth birth story, this one courtesy of Emily Marynczak, by way of Mirial Axel-Lute. Actually, we get to hear all about her first birth, too, so it’s sort of like a two-for-one special. Thank you so much for sharing your birth story, Emily! For what it’s worth, you don’t sound like a radical to me!
Emily Marynczak’s birth story:
My first time pregnant [12 years ago], I was working with a midwife [in New York City] who was in practice with an obstetrician, which I sort of found accidentally through my insurance company. I though, “Ooh, a midwife, that sounds lovely.” I was wholly uninformed about anything to do with birth and babies. She smelled good and looked lovely.
As the pregnancy was progressing I realized that I did like her very much, but I didn’t really like the obstetrician. His nurse would go “[distressed noise]” every time I’d get on the scale. They made me feel incredibly fat and like things were going wrong and when finally I couldn’t take it anymore and said “What’s the big concern, yeah I’m huge, but what’s the big concern?” they said “You might be left with some extra weight after the pregnancy.” I was horrified. Who do you think you are that you even know what I want to look like?
I started to look around for a different practice, but nobody would take me because I was too late in the pregnancy. So we decided to stick it out.
In the first pregnancy there’s so much learning going on. I did the alpha fetal protein test, and they told me that based on the results of this now you have a one in 50 case of having a baby with Down’s Syndrome. Before that test it was like one in 850. I don’t remember the number. I was like “OK now my baby has Down Syndrome!” From that test result, even without asking me, they scheduled an ultrasound, genetic counseling, and an amniocentesis. A month later we surfaced the other side and find out everything’s fine with the baby and there’s a 30 percent false positive rate on the test I had.
It was a lot of work to get back on track. We then took a Bradley [Husband-coached childbirth] class, and that was really helping. It was a place to process all this information and to learn what’s normal, and how to make decisions. [Before] I was like ‘You want me to make decisions, but I don’t know how to do this.’ The Bradley class helped me get on track.
A day before my due date, I sat down on the toilet and my membranes ruptured and I realized my water had broken, and that was completely exciting. My partner came home a half-hour later. He walked in the door, and we went to the store to buy ice cream. Things progressed absolutely smoothly and perfectly. Everything we learned in the Bradley class was helping us, we were changing positions, were working with it. I had some bloody show, which frightened me a little, but I called my Bradley teacher, I called my midwife and everyone said it was fine.
Finally I looked up and said “I don’t know how we’re going to get there.” The plan was to go downstairs and hail a cab. I said “I don’t think that can happen, so it must be time to go.” We got to the hospital, my midwife was there, all quiet, all low-key. It was pretty good for what that arrival can be like. She checked me, and I was almost 5 cm. I got in the shower, and was in and out of the shower.
One or two hours later, she wanted to check me again, and she got this really weird look on her face and said “I think something’s going on with the baby’s position and I want to bring the ultrasound machine in and the OB that we work with is here and I want him to come in and take a look at this.” At this time I’m almost 7 cm, I’m getting freaked out, into transition land, I’m like OK, whatever. When they wanted to bring the ultrasound machine in, I was naked, I had been in and out of the shower, and the nurse said to me ‘Do you want to put something on?’ and I looked up and said ‘Would the doctor be more comfortable?’ They walked in and turned on ultrasound machine and the baby has flipped into breech position.
I knew that not only did the OB not believe in delivering breech babies vaginally, he didn’t have any experience. I said I’m certainly not asking you to experiment on me. So I agreed to surgery. But I was like couldn’t you have done it 10 minutes ago? I was still having wicked contractions.
I got through the surgery. It was scary, there was a lot of shaking, temperature changes. The OB was actually wonderful. The anesthesiologist was kind of nasty because I was shaking and kept trying to get his attention and he was like “yeah, yeah it’s fine.” The recuperation from it was kind of tough.
They took the baby out and handed him to my partner . . . big guy, 9 lbs 3 oz., seemed totally fine. What they didn’t tell me then was he had a little indentation at the base of his spinal column, and as I’m getting stitched up and moving into recovery they want to take the baby to do an x-ray to make sure it’s not some kind of neural tube defect. So my husband goes off with the baby, and I was left all by myself in recovery. There wasn’t even a nurse around. I’m still shaking and cold and freaked out. I didn’t really know at the time that it should have been different. Now it kind of blows my mind. I knew it was awful. It was some time that I was by myself.
We got through that. And realized that I’m pretty sure I knew when the baby turned. At one point while I was in labor I was like “I can really feel it moving down.” Weeks later I was like I was barely 7 cm, it wasn’t moving down. It was this huge sensation. I’ve had obstetricians tell me that’s impossible, they can’t flip in labor like that. Well, in the ultrasound machine a week before, he was clearly head down. And I think I would have felt—he’s a big baby—I think I would have been aware if he had flipped before labor.
I recovered from the surgery OK. I was not really certain at the time, what would that have been. Could I have birthed him, breech? My first baby, a big baby. I’m left with that.
I was on a tear at that point to educate myself about what this experience has been. I was still hungry for information about pregnancy, and was amazed by how many women I was meeting now in the circuit of soon-to-be-mothers or people with new babies and how few questions they were asking about their health care and all the bad stuff people were talking about birth and pregnancies. It was overwhelming for me. We were making career and life changes and moved out of NYC and I decided to become a childbirth educator, based on my own experiences and the stories cropping up around me.
When I did get pregnant again [6 years later] there was a dilemma. I had learned a lot, I had all these visions of what my next birth should be like. Thankfully in 1999, there wasn’t yet this incredible backlash against VBACs. As I started to research my options, I had really in my heart thought I’d have this baby at home, but when I was pregnant, I got scared initially. I was scared to have the baby at home, I was scared about having a second child.
I realize now looking back, there’s so much fear surrounding having a baby: is the baby going to be OK, am I going to be OK, what will the birth be like, how will we handle having two kids? It’s almost hard to figure out what the real issues are.
So initially it seemed like maybe the hospital will be OK, we know what look for in a practice much better now and I started meeting around and talking to different practices, and kept coming across, “Well it’s a VBAC so you have to have continuous fetal monitoring and you’ll have to have an IV.” And the conversation would kind of stop right there, because those are both things that lead to increases in cesarean sections, and I’ve been there done that. And the reason I had a cesarean section wasn’t any question about how my body was handling the birth, my body was doing exactly what it was supposed to. I just had an acrobatic kid. He’s still doing somersaults around the house. There was no indication that my uterus wasn’t functioning properly, any structural abnormality. So why would you now strap me in bed and give me an IV and really reduce my chances of having this baby?
I started to learn that my chances of having an incision problem was really small. I was already over 35 and they wanted me to have an amniocentesis and they were saying the chance of a problem is only one or two percent. But flip that around, and there’s only a one or two percent chance I’m going to have a problem with my incision! That matters and the other one didn’t?! This number OK here and not OK there?
I couldn’t make anybody give me the information. I kept saying, explain to me how fetal monitoring is going to help. People were giving me stories, well we’ll know that anything is wrong. I would say but did it change the outcome in any way? Well, no.
At the same time, I had developed a good friendship with a woman who I knew I wanted to be at the birth all along, she was going to be my doula. She kept listening to me about my search, going to different midwives and doctors, and every once and a while she would just say “So tell me why you’re having this baby in the hospital?”
And I was just making up excuses and reasons. My husband is a physician’s assistant. Initially I thought, I didn’t understand the legal ramifications enough, and I thought maybe, is his license in any way in jeopardy if we take this on at home? Now I look back and think that was one more excuse. No, he’s not attending this as anything other than the dad.
It just became completely crystal clear, this is really what we need to do. We’re not happy with any other options. We’re afraid, but we’re afraid of this birth anyway. Let’s be honest. It terrifies us. Then it became easier to say, OK if you just admit that you’re scared of having the baby, let’s talk about where you want to be scared—do you want to be scared in the hospital or do you want to be scared at home?
We were so fortunate to come in contact with a midwife who was available, and could tend to us at home, who had copious amounts of experience, who we felt unbelievably comfortable with. I just got ‘She thinks my body will work,’ and more importantly, she’s asking me what I think about it. Even before we could call it a prenatal visit, we’d just meet to talk about it. An hour to two hours each visit. After a couple of those, I started to relax about the birth, because the relationship with the midwife was deepening. It was this amazing transformation. There were still fears about the birth. But on a health level, I felt so much safer. I felt that she knew me so well, that if I looked odd she was going to get it almost as quickly as my husband. She was getting to know us as a family. How we functioned, what the dynamic is. It just became amazing in terms of comfort.
I did decide to continue a relationship, I did pick an obstetrician. I got this from my midwife. Nobody’s going to know what’s going to happen. You plan for the home birth, but if you need it you transport. If we did need to transport we needed somebody who’d be able to oversee us. I felt like I was picking out a surgeon. It seemed like there wouldn’t be too much else we’d have to transport for.
I was very thankful to find an obstetrician who, I walked in and said ‘This is what I’m doing. I’m having this baby at home. I want you to know that’ and I found somebody who could have an honest discourse. Every now and then he’d say ‘You’re scaring me, I’m uncomfortable,’ and I’d say ‘I respect that you have concerns about that, but I’m trying very hard not to take on your fears. I have my own.’ I felt like he was honest with me. That deepened our relationship.
It was frustrating because I could never share names. What if something slips out? This woman is risking her life to help me, and that is a huge responsibility, taking on her protection. Look what she’s risking. It’s extraordinary.
Everybody else in my life thought I was out of my mind for picking home birth. One of the big issues in deciding to have a baby at home is: If something goes wrong in a hospital, here’s a sense of ‘Oh, it’s so tragic, we did everything we could.’ If something goes wrong at home, there’s a sense of ‘Oh you selfish person. Look what you did.’ And so that was hard.
My own mother was sort of excited, proud of me, and horrified all at the same time. She showed up about an hour after the baby was born. She’s sitting there holding this big, healthy, happy baby, and I looked over from the couch and said “Do you feel a little better about this now?” and she’s holding this pink round healthy baby and she says “No, I still think we should go to the hospital to get checked out.” We debated not telling anybody in our life, but that didn’t seem right either.
There was one little glitch—in my third trimester I had some unexplained bleeding. I went to my obstetrician, and called my home birth midwife. I wanted to go in and have an ultrasound and be checked out. I was on sort of a modified bed rest for a week. Everything checked out fine, they couldn’t quite figure out what it was. At that point the OB really got concerned about my planning to have a home birth. I kept telling him, look I trust my midwife and if something changes, we’re coming in. And he looked at me and said ‘I don’t want any heroics here.’ And I said to him “Any childbirth is heroic. What does that mean?” And again, I had to say, “I hear what you’re saying, but you have to keep your fears in check and not give them to me. I’m being smart, you know I’m educated about this. Say it out loud, but keep it in perspective.”
The birth was phenomenal, amazing. It was bankers hours. At 3 PM I went into labor by 5:15 he was born. One of the scary things was the midwives just showed up at the last 14-15 minutes. But by 7-7:30 we were all eating pizza, by 9 PM my husband was tucking my older son in to bed and by 9:30 we were all snuggled in for the night, going holy cow, look what we did!
Laboring at home, I was much more comfortable to be by myself. I was in the bathroom for a while, laboring. It’s a really intense bodily thing, and other intense bodily things in our lives, don’t generally like to be watched. If you think about having an orgasm, or diarrhea, or vomiting. I knew the my partner was around if I needed him, whereas the in the hospital I was like ‘Don’t leave me!’
In the hospital there was no tub, and everything was cold. The whole hospital experience was cold. My feet on the floor, and after the surgery I was freezing. There were huge temperature differences, even though it was February and snowing out [in the second birth]. I was more free, I made more sounds more easily. Honestly I’m not sure if that’s because I was at home or because I was so much more comfortable with birth. In some ways once you’ve had one baby, you’re already a mother. It’s very hard to compare, it’s like two different women. I had a really nice nurse the first time, my nurse and my midwife were doing what they could to give me space, but still not having the interruptions of we have to check the fetal monitor, not having an internal exam gave me the ability to say I need to turn over, I need to change positions. Though my second birth was so fast, I don’t think even a hospital… catch me if you can. I did appreciate, nobody told me to do anything and that was great.
My older son was home. We gave him a job. I believe strongly that birth isn’t a spectator event. If you’re going to be there, you should be participating and helpful. We gave him a bag full of disposable cameras and said “You can document.” He said “I’m going to go take pictures in my room, all over the house,” he was kind of joking with us. I did have someone scheduled to come and be with him, but the birth was so quick [she didn’t get there in time]. It was only 45 minutes he was there. He walked in and picked up the camera, and when it got a little intense for him he did wander around the house and take pictures of other things. It was great when we got them back, we could follow the chronology. He took great pictures. My son took a photograph of the homeopathic remedies on the floor in the corner, really interesting bits of documentation that somebody else wouldn’t have noticed. He was right there.
I had always planned to have him with us, but I knew at the hospital he wouldn’t really be included. Somebody that I was working with had an older sibling who was 9, and they took one of the local hospital classes for siblings, and they said to the 9 year old, “Bring your game boy, bring some books,” as if he needed to do something to pass the time. It was totally, you’ll be there, but this isn’t your experience, certainly you can’t help take care of your mother, or your father, or anybody else who was there. My older son was included in all the prenatal visits. The team of three women got to know him, they were very respectful toward him, they honored and acknowledged what a big deal it was for him in his life. We had prepared him with videos. I was teaching childbirth classes, so we did a little sibling class at my house, and my six year old was saying ‘here’s the placenta and here’s the umbilical cord.’
It was so much better for him at home. I can’t imagine the stress on me if we were separate, if I went to the hospital and he stayed at home. For him not to have us at home at bedtime. I can’t even imagine. We were separated when he was born at the cesarean section, for six hours and he didn’t need to go through that again. I don’t know that he would have gone there in his conscious mind, but I certainly did, and it seemed that we needed to be together. And so here we were all sitting around on the floor, and he was eating pizza, playing with his new brother, and then he went upstairs and we tucked him in.
Right at the end, because I had had this spotting in the third trimester, as I was delivering the placenta, I knew it was in my midwife’s mind, ‘OK we had a little bleeding issue what could this be?’ and she said to me, “OK Emily, don’t bleed.” And in my mind it was this stern, stern, important thing, and it was like a big order. When I went back to listen to the audio, it was very mild, like ‘Emily, don’t bleed now.’ Which is an interesting perspective on what it feels like when you’re in labor and people give you orders.
One interesting observation for me about birth, after the cesarean section, I felt like I missed the birth. I really had sadness about that. I wished we’d photographed the section. I would think “Thank goodness the baby looks like me,” because there’s just this sheet and they hand you a baby and it’s a very disconnected feeling. With my home birth it was so fast, I was on my hands and knees on the floor, so the baby came out behind me, nobody had time to get a picture, and I thought wow I missed that one too! For six years this feeling I had missed it because it was cesarean, but birth is just crazy. In some ways it healed some things about my cesarean section. It was still the birth of my child.
The differences in recovery were amazing. It was a half hour or hour after my home birth, when I realized I had to urinate. She had to give me a stitch or two, and that was fine, she was prepared. I said “I have to pee!” and I was terrified because with the c-section that was a horrible thing, it was painful. And the midwife looked at me and said ‘You know where the bathroom is.’ And I just stood up and walked over to the bathroom and went to the bathroom, and I was just blown away by that, and it was so basic.
Our pediatrician was very supportive. And that gave us a lot of confidence. If our pediatrician thinks this is OK. A pediatrician seemed like a logical person to voice a concern. You don’t want to be stupid, you want to make the best choice. When you go to your care provider and they say OK that helps. I know there are other pediatricians that would have accused me of terrible things. The one thing he said was “Look, I want to see the baby right away, within 24 hours, I want to listen to the baby’s heart myself. I don’t trust anyone, it’s not anything about your midwife.” Arlo was born at 5:13 on a Tuesday. On Wednesday morning before the office opened my husband and my mother took him and they let them right in and then he went home.
A couple weeks later, the pediatrics office was like ‘But we need you to do this newborn infant screening stuff.’ OK, so what do we have to do. ‘Well you need this form and go to the hospital. . . The amount of phone calls and work it took to get the newborn infant screening done was hilarious because everybody I would talk to said “Oh no no, your baby had that done at the hospital.” “Well no, my baby wasn’t at the hospital.” It wouldn’t even compute. “No your baby’s already had the newborn infant screening.” “No, we need to come in, but we need this form.”
And then afterwards thinking oh my god, we’re these crazy radicals. That’s what the world thinks of us. Radical? No. It doesn’t feel like I’m a crazy radical. I just wanted to have my baby.
(Transcribed and edited by Miriam Axel-Lute.)