A Footling Breech Home Birth

November 9, 2020

This is the story of our third child’s birth in February of 2014. I switched from an OBGYN to a homebirth midwife sometime around 27-29 weeks, and eagerly began planning for our first home birth. At this point I had training as both a childbirth educator and doula, but hadn’t been teaching or supporting women for a couple years because I was taking a break while my kids were little. 

Wednesday was my guess date and I was feeling really bummed all day that I hadn’t gone into labor yet. My first two children were a few days early and I was ready to be done. Being a doula and a childbirth educator, I knew how important it was to wait and let baby come when he’s ready, but there comes a point where you’re just so tired of being uncomfortable, so tired of not sleeping, and so tired of waiting. Wednesday was that day for me. My husband chose Wednesday (two days early) as the day to have two dozen roses delivered to me for Valentine’s Day, and that gave me the lift in spirits I needed to finish out the day.That night at 7:00 was my appointment with my midwife. I really wasn’t looking forward to it all that much because what was she going to tell me? “Great blood pressure!” (like always…) or “Your urine looks perfect!” (like always…). I just didn’t want another appointment of “no new symptoms, everything looks great”. I showed up promptly at 7 and she got to work checking all my vitals. It was time to listen to baby’s heartbeat, but instead of finding it in its usual place, she found it elsewhere. She told me that she suspected he was breech and asked if she could do a vaginal exam to check for sure.

Many midwives don’t do vaginal exams before you’re in labor and strive to keep them to a minimum while you’re in labor, and while I fully support that, I had to stifle my excitement when she asked if she could check because that would mean she could also tell me if I had dilated at all. I was really hoping for good news.

So she checked. Yep. Breech. Not only breech, but footling breech, meaning both his feet were at my cervix instead of his butt. Ideally, she told me, butt-first breech is best (after head-down, of course). The butt acts as the head, opening the way for the rest of the body to come out. The responsible thing was to try to get the baby to turn, but if he didn’t, we would deliver him breech. We tried this interesting Chinese medicine trick called Moxibustion at the suggestion of my midwife’s apprentice. It made the baby move like crazy but he didn’t turn, so she sent me home with her slant board and with some exercises to do to try to get him to turn. I planned to spend the majority of the next day (Thursday), doing those exercises.

She asked, “While I’m down here, do you want me to tell you where your cervix is at?” I was so excited! “Sure,” I said casually. Then, four blissful words, “You’re at a three.” A THREE?! I was ecstatic! It took me ten whole hours of labor to get dilated to a four with my second, and here I was not in labor and already at a three. This was VERY happy news and any signs of the bummed feelings I’d had earlier were completely gone. Even knowing that baby was breech and that it was a real possibility he would be born that way, I was completely at peace. So I went home, shared the news with my husband, and after getting the kids in bed, we got ourselves in bed at around 10:00.

10:45 came and I had to get up to go to the bathroom. Most nights I made it completely through the night without getting up, and sometimes I’d go when I got up with the toddler, just because I was already awake and it was convenient. I laid back down, cursing my round ligaments for hurting again, and promptly fell back asleep. Sometime between 12:15 and 12:45, I was awoken again with the urge to go to the bathroom. Not unusual, but if I hadn’t been half asleep I would have realized right then I was in labor. I went back to sleep. 1:20 came and again I was woken up, but quickly realized that I was in labor. I woke my husband, told him I was pretty sure I was in labor, and that he should sleep as long as possible so that he could be rested enough to really support me when needed. In hindsight, I should have laid down and tried to continue resting, but I was too excited for my first home birth.

I went downstairs with my birth ball, snacked on some Aussie Bites from Costco, and spent time on Facebook and reading the news on KSL. I texted our photographer and told her I thought I was in labor and was just letting her know so she could make arrangements for someone to watch her daughter. I started timing contractions almost immediately so that I could have an idea of where I was at. About 2:45 things started picking up and I decided to call the photographer and ask if she could come over. I woke Artene and told him to get dressed since we’d be welcoming the first of many people very soon. I called her about 3:00 am and she said she’d be right over.

She arrived and I continued laboring downstairs for a little while, but things were steadily picking up, so I decided to head upstairs and ask Artene if we could start filling the pool which was kept in our room. He jumped right on it.

Since I was dilated to a 3 already, we knew labor would be quick, but we weren’t exactly prepared for how quickly it would go. It took a little over an hour to fill the pool since we drained our water heater twice. Artene had a moment of genius and filled both my water bath canner and my pressure canner with water and had them hot on the stove waiting to be added to the pool whenever it started cooling off. When the pool was full, I hesitated to get in it because I didn’t want to get too relaxed and have my labor slowed down, but I decided to just do it. That was probably around 4:30. Artene texted his mom sometime around here to ask if she could make it to our house before the girls woke up so that someone would be here to tend to them. She never answered, even after a phone call. So we decided to put a pin in it and get back with her later. 

The pool felt heavenly! The warm water was so soothing, and that element of weightlessness really took the edge off the more painful contractions. After I got in the pool, things really started picking up. Contractions were coming closer together and were getting more and more intense. I wasn’t in the tub too long when I started needing my husband to put some counter-pressure on my hips during every contraction. Leaning up on the side of the pool made the contractions worse, so I would get on my hands and knees for each contraction, then sit back against the wall of the pool to rest until the next one.

What was interesting was that my contractions never got closer together than 3 minutes. This was part of the reason we held off calling the midwife because we both thought I still had quite a bit of time left to go. About 5:45 the contractions started making me a little nauseous and I told Artene we needed to call the midwife immediately. He was hesitant because my water hadn’t broken yet, so he assumed it was going to be several more hours at least. For me, being nauseous is a sure sign of transition, but being in the throws of contractions I couldn’t argue too much. He said, “Let’s just get through 4 or 5 more contractions first and then we’ll call her.” I didn’t argue. On the next contraction, I started feeling even more nauseous and changed my mind about waiting to call the midwife. He left me to get my phone and call her.

And then I threw up. Several times. It was really great (sarcasm). In the middle of throwing up and while my husband was on the phone with the midwife, my water broke. I knew at that point that he was going to come fast and I started to get a little worried. He hung up with the midwife and I can only imagine the panic she felt as she rushed to get ready and make the 10 minute journey to our house. On the next contraction, the baby’s first foot popped out and I was completely shocked. I said, “I think his foot just came out!!” My husband checked and responded that it had, and almost immediately after his second foot arrived.

At this point, I was starting to lose my concentration. The reality of what was happening was hitting me all at once. This baby was breech. He was coming NOW. My midwife wasn’t going to make it. And my husband would be delivering him. Before I got any further into that thought process, the next contraction hit and his butt and hips were born. At this point, I was starting to be really worried that his arms would get stuck and he’d have a dislocated shoulder, or that his head would get stuck and I’d tear really badly. I started vocalizing my concerns but before I could get very far, my husband calmly reassured me that everything would be fine. The midwife was on her way, and he was confident that he could deliver the baby just fine. He reminded me of all the preparations we’d made and, most importantly, that this child was a gift from God and that we had the divine help we needed.

There I was leaning over the side of the pool, my husband standing off to the side supporting the baby as he’s just hanging out there. It was easily another few minutes before the next contraction came. While my body was resting, Artene asked our photographer to grab my phone and call the midwife again to let her know what was going on. The midwife started asking her all sorts of questions and she did the best she could to answer them (if I had been more aware, I think it probably would have made me laugh). While she was talking to the midwife, the next contraction hit. On his own, his arms popped out one after the other, elbows first, and then his head (which was very small, thankfully) slid right out with my husband’s intuitive hands guiding him. I quickly checked the clock. 6:19AM. I was only awake and in labor for 5 hours.

 

The cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck about 4 times, so my husband quickly freed him and placed him on my chest so I could keep him warm. A mere 60 seconds later, the midwife and her assistant bounded through the door and up the stairs to our room with the most shocked expressions on their faces. Nobody was expecting things to go so quickly, and we were all in a state of mutual disbelief. Immediately she checked out the baby to make sure he was doing alright and when she found that he was, she was able to relax a little and get right into the groove of things.

 

I could not believe what had just happened! We had planned a home birth and everything was perfect. Then, in less than 12 hours, we found out he was breech, I went into labor, and we birthed a breech baby at home without our midwife there. Woah. I was over the moon that he was born so smoothly and that my midwife arrived so quickly. I was utterly shocked that things happened so fast, and I was even more proud of my husband for juggling all that he did: physically and emotionally supporting me, delivering the baby, making sure the midwife got contacted (both times), and having all the supplies nearby and at the ready. He was seriously a rockstar. Artene ran downstairs and grabbed the big pot full of hot water to heat up the pool water some more, and the midwife, her assistant, and her apprentice got to work getting our room ready for me to move to the bed. A short time later, the placenta was born.

After that, the rest of the morning was kind of a blur. I was in such a euphoric state that everything was just happening around me in super speed. You know what I mean, like in the movies when someone is just standing still and life goes on around them rushing at ten times it’s normal pace? Yeah, that was my morning. The midwife sat down and for record-keeping purposes talked through the entire labor and delivery with us to make sure she got the right times for everything, and she began talking through postpartum care for both the baby and mysefl. Her apprentice and assistant had plenty to do as well. They cleaned everything up, and I do mean everything! They drained the pool, threw out all the soiled plastic, gathered up soiled towels, made me some postpartum healing pads…etc etc etc. It was amazing to watch them work, and was so grateful to have them there. 

I look back on that birth and think about all the things we could have or should have done differently, but I also feel such a strong sense of empowerment at what we accomplished. Things did not go as planned, but because we spent so much time studying, practicing, and preparing, we were ready to adapt and were confident in our abilities. My husband is still known as “that guy who delivered a breech baby,” which makes us laugh, and we have fun telling this story to anyone who asks. 

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