A Bronx (Attempted) Home Birth Story: VBAC Style
I gave birth to my second child, Zuva, over two months ago. This is her birth story in photos.
Home birth? In the Bronx, you ask? My response is why not home birth? Especially in the Bronx. I was born and raised here so I am unapologetic about the pride I have in my borough, but I've also experienced firsthand the undeniable disparity in the provision of maternal care services among Black and Brown women whom, I must say, make up the overwhelming majority of this borough's population. In short, the Bronx has historically donned the highest poverty rate in not only the city, but the nation. Sadly, reality is that the rate of pregnancy-related mortality is disproportionately higher among poorer, Black and Latino women and their babies. In fact, the Northeast Bronx (precisely where this photo was taken) had the second highest maternal mortality ratio in 2009-11 at 57.8 deaths per 100,000 live births. This ratio is far higher than in wealthier neighborhoods in the city.
Another sad reality is that c-section rates in communities of color are wildly higher than in other parts of the city and country. THIS is why I was so determined to birth at home--because I was told that I had to have a c-section with my first child. I deeply regretted that experience because I felt as though something I had every womanly right to at least try was taken away from me. I was committed to having a successful VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) at home.
More about this photo: Believe it or not I am in labor. Very early labor. The beginning of when it all went down. My water broke at 2 AM this same morning and contractions were coming consistently about every 20 minutes. My midwife, doula, and I decided that taking a walk was a good idea. Off to the park we went.
My doula, Kris, coached me through contractions. I used this tree for support when the sensations intensified.
Pausing to let yet another contraction take hold. Who knew this was just day 1 of what would ultimately be a 4-day labor?
I look pretty comfy here. This is a little later on day 1...contractions remained consistent, slightly closer together than earlier in the day.
Here I am after being examined by my midwife to check what progress I had made after a full day of labor. When the words 'two centimeters' escaped her mouth my inner voice said, "Nicole, hang in here, because you are about to do the hardest shit you've ever done in your life." I knew this and I accepted it. No despair at the thought of having quite a way to go before my baby would be born. I just knew it was time for my mind and my body to bring its A game. "Let's get it," I said.
My doula massaging my shoulders, an area where I was most tense.
This is a birth affirmation of sorts left on a Post-It note on my living room wall by my mother. She's listed the names of my grandmothers and great-grandmothers to reassure me that their spirits would all be with me during this process. Read more about how this came about in my Blessingway post.
Affirmations, birth ball, and a hat for Zuva.
Here I am being coached by my doula through yoga breathing or alternate nostril breathing. So helpful!
More yoga breathing. And a light scalp massage by my mother. I had moved to the bedroom by this point. This is another joy of birthing at home. You can move a lot more freely than you would be able to in a hospital setting.
Let me take a moment to say a word about these last two photos displayed: I have no recollection of those moments. For real. I went some place else for that time. I believe that I was in a trance. My mother whether she knew it or not was chanting to me and I was taken to a mental space that allowed me to ride the waves of those contractions. Each time one came my mother laid her hands on me and repeated the same words: "Relax from the top of your head to your temples, your jaw bone, your shoulders..." and so on and so forth. My sister, Cagney, who photographed all of this, and my doula, have recounted that I appeared as though I were in a trance, as well. Y'all. This was four days of child birthing pain. And I was able to do this at home with no meds. You're damn right I checked out.
More photos of my mom, da boss, caring for me, laying hands on me, holding space for me.
Who said there wasn't a place for fathers at birth?
This is me midway through my "sexy walk" as my midwife called it. Swaying and rocking the hips is what encouraged Zuva to come on down.
Did I mention that this went on for four days? This photo must have been taken at some obscene hour in the morning. Understandably, people were sleepy so they slept. This is home birth.
Moms and those hands again.
This right here. I could not wait to get up in this for the simple fact that when I was in labor the mere mention of a new pain management technique was the most exciting news I had ever received! This picture does not scream excitement, I know. But, the relief...
As I approached the second stage of my labor (pushing) and things got more real I did a lot of hip rocking and I held on to every member of my birthing team for support as I rocked through a contraction.
Here, I was ready! Zuva was ready! Have a look at my mother feverishly texting all her "Favorites" to inform that her first granddaughter was about to be born. Little did any of us know that this moment captured would mark only the very beginning of what was ultimately a 12 hour - yes a half day- stint of pushing. Several hours into my pushing she discovered that Zuva had re-positioned herself into a less optimal occiput posterior position, which as my midwife described it, would require extraordinary strength to push her out. This didn't deter me from the mission at hand because...I have extraordinary strength. Hullo. So I pushed for a good 8 more hours with each contraction. At about 2:30 PM on May 12, 2016 I made the decision to leave home and make my way to our back-up hospital, as I grew concerned about Zuva's ability to endure such strenuous pushing any longer than she already had.
We welcomed Zuva, whose name means 'sunshine' in the Shona language of Zimbabwe, Earthside at 4:27 PM on May 12th. I birthed her naturally (win!) after having had a c-section with my first (win!) She weighed a healthy 7 pounds, 3 ounces. She's a fierce one.
Thank you for viewing the story of my labor and Zuva's birth. Please comment and share, as I am happy to answer questions about natural birth, home birth, my unexpected hospital birth, doula care, and all that good stuff.
Love and Light,
- Nicole, Negasi and Zuva's Mama