In birth photographer circles, we talk about "Unicorn Births" -- in other words, the sorts of births that are so unique and rare that you don't expect to have the opportunity to ever see it. Well this one is definitely a unicorn birth! Mama Jessica's pregnancy and birth story is told in her own words and from her own perspective at the end of this post, but I need to give a couple up-front facts just so that what you're about to see makes sense. :)
This is a twin birth. Both twins were frank breech (that means their butts came out first) when Jessica went into labor. Both twins were born vaginally with the attendance of two skilled midwives with experience delivering both twins and breech babies, as well as an amazing naturopathic doula. I didn't even start shooting until Twin A was on his way out, and I haven't posted many of those photos simply because I'm erring on the side of modesty. I didn't even get to take any photos of Twin B's birth because I was snoozing downstairs when she very suddenly made her incredibly quick appearance in the bathtub five hours after her brother!
So Jessica's story -- shared at the end of this post -- will help fill in the gaps not covered by the photos. Be sure to read it! It's rather riveting.
When we first found out we were pregnant I was excited and scared to experience birth. I spent the next couple months reading and watching home births, hospital “natural” births and just absorbing what our birth could be. Very quickly I decided that a very private home birth is what I really wanted for our birth. So that became our plan- a small, only the necessary people, home, hopefully water birth. I envisioned our birth so clearly. I wanted that moment of having baby placed on my chest and us connecting. That moment of clarity of this is what the last nine months have been about, bringing this life into this world the way God intended. Unfortunately we were thrown a lot of curve balls for a short amount of time and ended up with a different but unforgettable birth.
We were quick to start our search for a midwife for our home birth and ended up choosing a midwife pretty early in our pregnancy. This particular person came with a very out of the box approach and gave my husband and I a different experience with a midwife. Unfortunately we had a hand full of prenatal visits before some personal issues arouse with the midwife which made us choose to end the relationship and find another midwife. At this point we were at the end of the second trimester. We knew we needed to find a midwife but I was determined to interview at least three more before we chose. So at 29 weeks we started with our second midwife. This one was a lot more thorough which was necessary especially since I started experiencing some strange things. I had started getting a lot of swelling in my feet, ankles and calves that moved into my thighs, a weird yeasty feeling in my womanly region, and a lot of movement. The next four weeks of measuring my fundal height the midwife found that it doubled in the “normal” growth it should have. This, along with the swelling and the other issues, indicated that we had the most life altering curveball God could have given us.
At this point we are 33 ½ weeks along and the midwife started searching for a second heart beat, which she found and I couldn’t deny that it sounded much different. She suggested that I call and get an ultrasound scheduled to find out if there were two babies. Up to this point in our pregnancy I had not gotten ultrasounds. I didn’t want any unless there was a medical indication that we needed to check something. Well now we had our medical reason! It was important to find out if there were two, if there were then how are they positioned and did they have their own placentas. I wasn’t able to get in for another week for the ultrasound so at 34 ½ weeks we officially found out we were going to have twins. This was such a shock for us. I have no family history of twins but in hind sight I always wished I would have them. Growing up I was always lonely and wished I had a twin myself, someone closer to me than anyone else so thinking about it now I think this was a prayer that was answered many years later.
The ultrasound showed us that the twins did have their own sacks and placentas which was great news. However it also showed that they were both in the breech position which was not good news. Bringing that information back to the midwife she basically told me that hospital birth was the only way and they would want to do a C-section especially since this was my first birth. This was absolutely heartbreaking news to me. I followed her recommendations and made an appointment with a ob/gyn in a hospital that has a reputation for being more “natural”. At the same time though I followed my heart and called my doula, Heather Dexter. I laid all my feelings on the line. I told her how much I wanted to at least try to give birth vaginally. Deep down I knew I could have these babies vaginally but I felt like I wasn’t even going to be given a chance. And for many days I kept asking God “Why?”. Why am I getting this challenge? Why was I dealt this hand? I did everything I could during my pregnancy to stay low risk and healthy but now no matter what I have become high risk. But God always gives us challenges that he knows we can handle.
Heather began contacting midwives she knew dealt with more high risk births and gave me a huge list of names to contact too. But in all the possibility she found our last midwife, Sara Badger. She herself didn’t have a lot of experience with twins especially breech but her midwife mother, Anni, had delivered multiple sets of breech twins during her many years as a midwife. Anni was our wild card. If she was willing to fly in from New Mexico for our birth then Sara would be okay with us trying at her birth house in Grand Rapids. The birth house was five minutes from the hospital and Sara could have the hospital ready in case something happened and we had to transfer there. So this was our chance to have our vaginal birth. Charlie and I went to meet Sara just to get a feel of the birth house and her since we had never met. I will never forget that meeting. We sat there as Sara told us everything that could go wrong and how uneasy she was about doing this. She basically said we had everything working against us and she needed something positive to make her feel more comfortable about this. I just cried as I told her I knew I could do this and I just needed to find a team that knew I could too. When we left I didn’t feel that great about the meeting. I could tell she was hesitant and unsure. I knew we were not an easy case and she didn’t know anything about my pregnancy or about me. At this point she was our only option. I still had my appointment with the OB/GYN and Charlie really wanted me to pursue that and find out if they would allow me to try vaginally so I kept that appointment. But since we now had twins and were considered high risk everyone became very overly concerned and I became very defensive. I didn’t want more ultrasounds, I didn’t want extra tests and I was done with prenatal visits. My theory was we had been doing good for the past 35 weeks before knowing we had twins so we will continuing doing good even after. So I went almost two weeks without anyone checking anything and I was okay with that. Our goal was to make it to 37 weeks. I felt completely confident about making that, but also that we were going to go longer.
Then three days before we were 37 weeks I had the appointment with the OB/GYN. I didn’t feel like going and in hide sight should not have gone. I don’t like hospitals so right off the bat my blood pressure was high. Which that hadn’t been the case in any of my prenatal visits so for me that was a huge red flag that I would not do well in the hospital environment. Then the OB/GYN and I discussed giving birth vaginally which she basically told me that she would not let me try because I would kill the first baby. I was in such shock and in a weak state that there was a part of me that believed this could be a possibility. So instead of getting up and walking out I stayed. I let her do an ultrasound, internal exam and run a couple tests. The tipping point was when she wanted me to do a stress test and also another ultrasound. I agreed, because disagreeing was getting me nowhere. When I left I bee lined it to a bathroom where I broke down. And I think that is what I needed to get me to that point of determination. I walked out of that hospital, didn’t go get the stress test, didn’t get that ultrasound and never looked back. I called Heather and told her there was no way I would be going to a hospital and we were going to go to the birth house. I called Sara and told her to plan on our birth and we made an appointment for my first visit with her. After that I felt good about my decision. I wasn’t going to be scared into a C-section. I was going to get my shot at a vaginal birth. And I was going to make it to 38 weeks, or so I thought.
Three days later, on Monday Dec 5, 2016 at 8am, my water broke. That was the 37 week mark, the first day I had a doctor covering my office (I'm a chiropractor), and not at all when I thought I would go into labor. My first call was to Heather to first confirm that it was my water but secondly to let her know for her kids. The second call was to Sara to let her know. Sara wanted me to come straight to the birth house. Unfortunately we were not prepared for this. I didn’t have bags packed, we had no food to bring with us, and I still felt like I was having period cramps so I wasn’t that concerned. I could still feel babies moving so I told her we would be there in the afternoon, right now I was going to pack and labor at home. As I packed things got more intense so I let everyone know we would be there at 1pm so then everyone could meet us. Charlie rushed around getting things prepared for the animals and getting us food to take with us. Once we were prepared we headed out at 1pm that day. We got there and my contractions slowed right down. The heart beats were good so to get things moving Heather, Charlie and I went for a walk around the block. At this point I was so grateful to have Heather with us. She kept Charlie focused on helping me and us moving so the contractions kept going. She was really my mother hen. She was there getting me things I needed and encouraging me as I labored but also sharing in many laughs that we had. The funniest situation we were in was during our second walk around the block. We were just around the corner from the birth house and there was a big man on his porch with another man. Of course as we pass I get a contraction so we stop and I am working through it as I hear the big man yelling at us. Charlie is talking back and laughing as the contraction stops the guy is right next to us. He is talking about barbequing. He takes out his phone and starts to show us pictures of ribs he barbequed up. Charlie says we are going to come for dinner and very seriously the guy says “Naah there won’t be enough for y’all” turns around and walks away. I don’t think he had any idea what we were doing! After that walk things started progressing a lot faster. I was on the exercise ball and in the bath tub until we finally things got serious.
As we entered the pushing phase my contractions never got very close. They were about 8-11 minutes apart. Honestly at this point I remember bits and pieces but I was focused and zoned to giving birth. I had read stories where women talked about this focus but I didn’t know if I could get there. Trust me it was an instinct focus. I didn’t try I just was in it. I started out leaning on the foot of the bed. Then the midwives encouraged me to get on the bed on all fours. This worked for a while but with my legs as swollen as they were and as everyone getting on and off the bed I felt really unsteady. Then we tried a birthing stool which was not comfortable at all. So I went back to bending over, leaning on the foot of the bed. This time however Charlie sat at the end of the bed and I leaned into him. In this position is how Dirk came. With every push I held onto Charlie and him to me as I squatted down. Over about three hours I worked as Dirk dropped into my pelvic cavity. It got to a point that his butt would pop out and then go back in. I wasn’t pushing through the contractions. I would stop at the point of discomfort. It wasn’t painful but really felt like I was going to take an abnormal poop which is more uncomfortable. Once Heather told me I had to push through that feeling it took me another two pushes and I had his little body out. Since he was breech his head remained inside me. This was when I remember the feeling of panic around me. This was the “big risk” that the head would get stuck and he wouldn’t be able to breathe. I remember this moment so clearly. Everyone was telling me to push but I didn’t have a contraction so when I did push it didn’t feel like I was doing anything. I was out of breath and could feel everyone’s panic. Then I felt sharp pin pricks that afterwards found out it was them cutting my perineum so they could tip his head down. His chin was getting caught so when they reached in pulled his chin down I was able to finish pushing him out. The midwives told me that up to this point he was breathing, the cut gave him air and his umbilical cord was still pulsing, so he was okay through those two minutes it took me to get him out. But once he was out he stopped breathing for a minute. As I sat down and everyone is telling me to talk to him all I could think was “did I kill him?” because that is what the medical community said I would do. I was so scared I had trouble coming up with words to say. Those few seconds felt like the longest moments of my life. But those seconds passed, he started breathing and I was able to hold him. This is when it all felt real. I know that is what Charlie felt. I have only seen him cry a hand full of times but he was full on crying when he saw our son. It was an amazing experience to bring him into this world. He was born at 1:17am, weighed 5lbs 11oz, 18” long.
We then spent five hours being a family of three. This break was much needed. Everyone went to separate places to take a nap and get something to eat. I nursed Dirk, having a small contraction every 30 min or so, ate some food and got a little sleep. Charlie stayed and slept next to us. During this time Madelyn was working to get into position for her birth. About 4 hours we spent like this until Anni came to check Madelyn’s heart beat. She was still doing good but Anni suggested we start getting the contractions going again so that baby number two could join us. Heather got a bath going since for Dirk it helped a lot to get his contractions ramped up. I handed Dirk over to Charlie and they continue to sleep in the bed since no action had started yet. I went with Heather to the bath tub. As we sat there we talked about the guy and the ribs he cooked, wondering if we could go over there now and get some food! As we were laughing I felt my first contraction in the tub come on. I got prepared and slightly beared down with it as I feel a whooshing feeling inside and then a baby flying out into the water. Heather in the mean time starts to yell for Anni, as Madelyn is born! Heather scooped her out of the water and placed her on my chest as Anni walked in stating time of birth as 6:37am. This little girl came out of the water screaming. Her lungs were in full use and didn’t stop until her brother was place next to her on my chest. As soon as he was next to her she stopped screaming immediately. At this point we were officially a family of four. Madelyn weighed 4lbs 8oz.
Before this birth everyone I talked to was very cautious to agree with how I wanted to bring these children into this world. I struggled because as I talked to people I almost felt selfish- “I want to” is what I kept feeling like I was saying. It took a quiet moment one day for me to really reflect on why I wanted to birth this way. I could argue that it was the healthier way to be born was the major reason but it was only a part of the decision. In my heart I felt like God wouldn’t have placed these two babies in my belly if I couldn’t have them the way he intended children to be born. I wanted to honor him through our birth. One thing I never told anyone is that as soon as the contractions started I felt like there was always this man standing next to me with his hand on my shoulder. I never felt like I couldn’t have these babies vaginally. That presence kept me feeling safe and secure. I had faith that God was with us, watching over us, and helping us birth these two gifts in his name. Our birth story is really a testament to faith in the Lord and the path he has given us.
I can’t say thank you enough to our team. Sara Badger, her mother Anni and her whole team were the only team that supported us and allowed us to have this birth. Heather Dexter, our doula, was the best support through the labor and delivery that I could have ever asked for. She was not only there for me but for my husband and now my kids. Brooke Collier was our birth photographer. She took pictures that I would never have dreamed possible. So thank you to everyone who supported us! We couldn’t have done it without you!