Marisol Isavel’s Birth Story
When I was pregnant with my first child, Scarlet, we decided early on to have an unassisted birth. After one or two prenatal appointments, we also decided to have an unassisted pregnancy. The decision was not made lightly and I spent my pregnancy researching as much as I could. I read books, participated in online forums and asked questions.
Although we kept quiet about our plans, we weren’t secretive and various family members knew. Those who did had mostly negative things to say so we avoided talking outright about things. As time got closer to my due date, they started getting really negative and making us antsy. After passing up my last due date (I had had three), things amped up. We were constantly being asked if we had had the baby yet and how we knew it was “okay in there.” The seed had been planted.
One night, despite our desire to actually wait, I took some castor oil. Labor started the next day. Being our first time, we were already nervous. Add in our families’ paranoia we were doomed from the beginning. Once I hit transition and did the classic plea for pain killer, we decided to go in. There was no need to and we knew it. The situation was just emotionally overwhelming and we didn’t know what to do to deal with it. I was frustrated labor was painful and that nothing was working for me coping-wise. Beto, my husband, was unsure of what he could do for me.
Once in the hospital, things went sour. As soon as the staff found out that we had planned an unassisted birth and that later on we made the switch to having an unassisted pregnancy, they treated us poorly. We were treated like poor, uneducated individuals. In the end I was heavily overdosed on a pain killer no longer used in the U.S. (except for major surgeries and only if there is nothing else available or the person has an allergy to another form).
Within an hour of getting there, I was passed out unconscious. I received two bags of medicine to bring my blood pressure back up to the lowest “safe” level there was, was given multiple doses of something to stop me from throwing up (which they had me doing lying flat on my back while making Beto hold a pan under my chin), and was given an episiotomy after the doctor insisted I would tear horribly in all directions, effectively scaring my husband (who insisted on waking me up to ask me if I wanted that not once, but twice).
Scarlet was forcibly turned due to her position (sunny side up) not working for the doctor. He turned her with such force that he left finger indents on each side of her head. She was born overdosed as well. After finally getting into the recovery room and getting her in there with us, we assumed things would mellow out. I was ignored as a patient. I was made to wait over 40 minutes for pain relief after a nurse massaged my uterus so hard that I needed my sheets changed.
Scarlet was mistreated, though we have no idea to what extent. We finally put a stop to vital checks being done outside our room when she came back with the entire underside of her foot bruised. She left our room for that vitals check bruise-free, only to be returned 3 hours later (despite our many calls and trips to the nursery) in obvious pain from it. I was given no help with nursing and was told that drinking milk didn’t make milk. By the time we were discharged, we were depressed about the whole situation. Her birth set in motion how we would both view birth.
When I got pregnant with my second child, Scarlet was 18 months old. Neither of us were happy with each other or our situation. We had just moved away from family to another state where we were continually promised a house. After about six weeks of living in a hotel, I threw a fit. I decided that the company who brought us out there had better get us in a house or I was going back to the state we had just left. When we brought up our concerns we were basically told to behave and not throw a fit. How could we complain? We were being put up in nice hotels on their bill.
Beto let them know it wasn’t acceptable and they replied with “tough, either get over it or go home.” We decided to stay and with the help of a friend we found a place to rent and moved in. By that point I knew I was pregnant but hadn’t taken a test yet. I was in denial. I didn’t have any solid proof other than a distinct feeling that I was going to get pregnant after sex one night.
When I finally tested, I had passed my longest cycle length to date. I had only had a couple post partum cycles by then. While they were getting predictably shorter, they were still sporadic enough that I waited it out until I had gone the length of the longest one. By then I had missed two periods and was pretty sure I was indeed pregnant. I had Beto bring home a test one morning on the way back from the gym. It was positive before the urine was all the way across the test strip.
Over the next few months, I planned for an unassisted birth. It was going to happen this time no matter what! Scarlet’s birth had solidified my desire for that more than ever. I knew her birth was bad because of our decision to go in and I knew I had to avoid that this time. I began reading everything I could again.
As I was doing this, Beto was trying to convince me to get a midwife. While he logically knew that our problems started when we transferred in, he was still under the mindset that it was a good thing and that birth was scary and possibly dangerous. We argued a few times over it. I was adamant that it be totally unassisted and he was just as adamant we have a midwife. We finally quit talking about it and any chance I got to compromise, I used it to get him to agree to a UC.
After a few months of going back and forth, he asked me to at least consider having someone on call to come up. I didn’t have to see them for prenatals or anything, but he just wanted me to have them available. He wanted someone there who could be an emotional support because he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to handle it. Since he was also going to be in charge of Scarlet, he needed to be able to get out of the house if things got to be too stressful. He didn’t want to leave me by myself either.
The request was honest and made sense. When he went to bed early one night, I sat up thinking about it. I didn’t want anyone there. It wasn’t something that made me feel okay, but I couldn’t flat out ignore his request! Suddenly it dawned on me. Laura Shanley lived nearby and was a member of a board I belonged to as well. It was worth a shot. I sent her a message saying I was sure it was a crazy idea but asked if she would consider being that support person. I went about my business, not expecting a reply until the following morning. Shockingly enough she replied within about 15 minutes. Even more shocking was that she had agreed!
She had never seen a birth other than her own, so she was especially interested in it. She made it clear to me that she would only be coming up to keep me company and offer support. I let her know that was all I wanted. Who better to be at a UC than someone who had had many UCs? She had the experience Beto wanted so he was comfortable with the idea. We decided to meet up one night. When we got to her house, we sat and talked with her and her husband and watched a movie. When we left, we left with her book and another movie in tow. I was excited. Beto was more at ease with the idea of attempting another UC. When we got home, I watched the video and started on the book.
Over the next few weeks we talked a lot about various hang-ups we had. One night as we lay there, Beto asked if I would consider asking my sister to come out. We would fly her in a week or so before my due date and then she’d stay until the baby was born. I said I would ask her about it since it was obviously about a familiarity thing with him at that point. The following morning, I asked her. She said yes, but it just wasn’t going to work. She had just started babysitting and there was no way she could stop it for that (they needed the money). She reminded me that we had an apartment in Idaho (our former state and where she was) and asked why we didn’t come there and have the baby. The idea made sense to me so later that night I brought the idea up to Beto. He loved it.
We started making our plans to have the baby in Idaho. We left for Idaho at the end of July. We got there on the 24th and quickly settled in. We had brought along a U-Haul of things that we were going to need. We figured we would be there at least a month, so we brought clothes, dishes and other various household items. We knew we would eventually be moving back there so it wasn’t too big a deal to do it.
I had thought for my entire pregnancy (which ended up being entirely UP except for one ultrasound that I used as a compromise) that the baby would be early. I had no reason to think that other than my own feeling. Our diet was better than ever (we switched to being vegetarian when I was about 4-5 months along) and we traveled a lot, so there wasn’t any one thing that led me to believe it would happen that way. Still, I thought that.
When it became obvious it wasn’t going to happen, I set my sights on the fact that I would go over. Pregnancies with girl babies go longer in my family and since we knew I was having a girl, we were prepared for a bit of a wait. We would be plenty busy though! Through Laura Shanley, I had gotten in contact with a production company in the U.K.. They had put out a request months earlier for families planning unassisted births. I had contacted them and let them know our plans. We emailed back and forth for a bit and when they found out about Scarlet’s birth they decided to use us. We were perfect for the show. Contact had stopped until right before we headed to Idaho.
As August had gotten closer, they resumed contact with me to set up how things were going to work. Once in Idaho, we had about 2 weeks before two producers flew out here. They were going to be here for a couple weeks doing interviews. They wanted to get as much “before” footage as possible, some of the birth, and then an interview or two afterwards. They would equip us with a camera and a handy-cam to record the birth.
We had thought it would be pretty low key. Within a couple days, though, we realized it was going to be more time intensive than we had prepared for. Family was starting to get antsy and somewhat irritated with us and the constant filming. Things were getting stressful. I sat down one morning and wrote them an email explaining that we needed to relax a bit. Our family here knew our plans to begin with, but with the media coverage of it they were getting more vocal about their thoughts with it all.
When I sent the email, we were all getting tense with each other. I explained what was going on and both producers said they were worried that would happen and they took a step back. They definitely had enough footage and interviews (with more family than we thought would agree to it!) and the cameras were at the house. They had set one up on a tripod in the corner of the room and trained us on how to use it. Things were good to go so we all stopped filming and just relaxed.
The week before the birth I was starting to get antsy. I was uncomfortable, but only because I couldn’t breathe when I went to bed at night. If I lay on my left side I couldn’t catch my breath. Being on my back was even worse. Being on my right side hurt my hips and made my legs restless. I wasn’t getting decent sleep and was up often throughout the night. I was tired and my body was starting to show it.
One day on a bank run I grabbed some castor oil just in case. From my memories of taking it with Scarlet, it wasn’t bad. The day after we bought it I opened it up to smell it and see if it still made me think of crayons. It was so bad I threw up in the sink next to me. It was obvious I would not be taking it this time around. I settled myself with the knowledge that it was going to take some time. I was disappointed to say the least, but at the same time relieved that I had had such a strong reaction to just smelling it. I wanted to do this as naturally as possible and that just made it easier.
On the 21st of August, I woke to bloody show. It was such a large amount that I knew without a doubt birth was soon. I quickly Googled it and found out that I was right. Generally speaking, once you have bloody show you go into labor (and usually have the baby) within 24-48 hours. I waited it out for a few hours to see if it would continue and then I let the UK producers know I would be out of commission for filming. Things were going to start soon enough.
I waited all day for a contraction of any degree, but only had a pressure in my pelvis. I went to bed that night telling myself I WOULD go into labor that night. I woke up the next morning without any more bloody show and the pressure gone. I was so frustrated and disappointed.
I went about the day feeling down and thinking it was going to be another week or so. I even looked up “natural inductions” to see what else there was. Everything I found I had tried with Scarlet and I knew that they weren’t bound to work this time either. I looked at castor oil again and found a blip about it acting like a prostaglandin. A midwife had posted she uses it as a lubricant for cervical exams and how she basically coats the cervix with the oil.
It was an interesting thought and I spent a few more minutes looking it up. I thought about it all day long and when we went to bed that night I did a quick check to see if there was any change. I know that dilation doesn’t mean anything in regards to when the baby will come, but after spending the day hopeful I wanted to be able to check for some sort of progress. I used some castor oil like the midwife did and made sure to use a lot. Within about 10 minutes of doing that I started to get some contractions.
Lying in bed, they kept coming. I attempted to time them (I had my glasses off so it was all a guesstimate) and figured out that they were coming about every 10-15 minutes. I tried to stop myself but I got very excited. I didn’t want to spend the night awake and hopeful only to have it fizzle out, so I forced myself to relax and go to sleep.
I kept the fact that I was having contractions to myself. Beto knew about the bloody show and asked throughout the day how I was doing and if anything new was happening. Before he fell asleep that night he asked me that again and asked when I thought it would happen. I simply replied I had no way of knowing.
The next morning before he left for work, I told him to keep his instant messenger on just in case. I had a feeling it was going to be sooner than later. He left and I fell back asleep. Scarlet and I got up at about 10 am. I had a couple tiny contractions and decided to let her nurse to see if I could get them stronger and more frequent. It lasted about 5 minutes and sure enough, things picked up. We got up and went about our morning.
Around noon, I asked Beto (via messenger) if he was coming home for lunch. He needed about a half hour to get some things out of the way so I used that time to do some cleaning. The UK producers asked if they could stop by (they knew labor had finally started by then) and drop off a present. I said sure and continued what I was doing. A few minutes later there was a knock at the door. I opened it thinking it was them and was surprised to see my father-in-law standing there. Not good timing, I thought. He was probably the most vocal about our plans (in opposition to them) and the fact that I was in labor then wasn’t an easy thing for me.
He asked how I was doing and said he just wanted to stop by and make sure things were okay. I sat there talking to him through a few contractions. When he left, I breathed a sigh of relief and decided to get into the tub. I checked my messenger window and saw that Beto asked if I wanted to head over to the local restaurant to get lunch. I said sure but that we needed to wait for the UK ladies to get here and that they should be there any minute now. Right around then the contractions needed my focus a bit more. Ten minutes after agreeing to lunch I sent Beto a message saying never mind, I wasn’t going anywhere.
I asked him to bring home a couple kiddie movies for Scarlet to help keep her entertained. I then went and got into the tub. It felt soooo nice! I sat there for a couple minutes before the phone started ringing. I got out as quick as I could and as I walked by the door I heard a knock. I figured I could call back whoever was calling so I answered the door first. It was the UK ladies. They had brought me a Salt City candle (smells heavenly!) and stood there talking to me for a minute. They wanted to make sure we were still ok with filming and that Beto wasn’t mad or anything.
I reassured them and sent them on their way. They knew I was in labor but didn’t realize I was having contractions as I stood there. After they left I went and got the phone to see who had called. It was Beto, so I called him back to see what he wanted. I assumed he’d be telling me he needed some more time to get a few more things finished up.
Instead he told me to come down (we live upstairs) so we could go eat. I was baffled for a minute. I know I had sent messages. Did he not read them before he came to the house? I told him I wasn’t going anywhere and that he needed to come work at the house now. He was surprised and said okay before hanging up. He then ran up the stairs to the apartment.
It was about 2 PM by then. Things were getting more intense. I needed to keep moving, but everything was still very manageable. I didn’t need to be vocal and wasn’t feeling crazy like I had with Scarlet. Beto and I were talking and joking in between contractions. Scarlet was content eating some chips and watching Shrek. I spent the time doing what I wanted. I was in and out of the tub a couple times (we have an old claw foot tub with loads of room) and each time I was spending more and more time in it.
Around 4 PM, I told Beto we should set up the floor covers in the living room. I could still help out and didn’t want to have to attempt it when I was unable to. Beto laid down the shower curtain and sheets while I filmed it. I was starting to need more time to focus on contractions and Scarlet was not happy about that. She wanted to play with me and if I was in the tub she wanted in with me.
Beto was getting antsy at her energy and we decided to call my sister-in-law, Sundi, to come over. We weren’t sure if we would have her watch Scarlet or spend the time with me. When she got there we decided she should be with Scarlet. There was a street fair going on and my mother-in-law had a booth set up, so we suggested they go there. It would help keep Scarlet entertained without Sundi having to worry about a potential meltdown. Scarlet had never been watched by anyone other than Beto or me, so we were very worried she would freak out, especially since she knew something was going on with me.
We sent them off with specific instructions that if she started getting upset or antsy to bring her back to the house. I had made the bathroom my home then, and was lounging in the tub swirling my hips and chanting “gentle” over and over to myself during contractions. Beto came in and sat on the toilet to talk to me and keep me stocked on things like water and Carmex (my lips got very dry!).
I was starting to feel weak from not having eaten. The last time I had eaten anything was that morning when we got up and it was a piece of German chocolate cake. I asked Beto to cut me up an apple and, my god, it tasted fantastic! It also gave me a boost of energy that I needed. When he came in with it, we started talking about Scarlet. I was worried she’d freak out. I think my bringing it up made Beto even antsier about it than he already was. We wanted her back home, so we gave Sundi a call and asked that she come back.
They hung out in the living room while Beto and I continued to hang out in the bathroom. Early on in my pregnancy I had wanted to buy a CD of monks chanting (Benedictine Monks for the curious). I had owned the CD before and loved it. All the tracks were in Latin and were beautifully done by a group of monks. It seemed like such a nice way to focus without getting too busy with extra music (I want to say all the tracks are done without music). We never got around to buying it but I thought about it often.
After Sundi and Scarlet got back, I asked Beto to chant for me. He knows some chants in Hebrew that he would use for meditation and cleaning rituals and it seemed perfect to me at the time. He seemed somewhat surprised. I did ask for him to meditate, not chant, so I think he had to think about what I was asking first, but said yes and started doing it.
It really helped the both of us focus and it seemed to calm him down. Soon I was back in the tub. During one contraction I had to get out of the water, but I didn’t want to give up the warmth of the water so I stood and looked for something to grab onto. There wasn’t anything nearby so Beto stuck his arms out and I held onto his forearms. This became the standard way of dealing with a contraction.
After about an hour or so of that routine, I was getting tired. I wanted to nap and was getting tired of being in labor. It had been active labor since about 1 PM, and it was getting close to 8 by then. I needed a break. I mentioned it to Beto and told him I was just waiting for that urge so many women get to push. I had no idea if I would personally get that but I was waiting for it nonetheless.
It had been some time since I last checked myself (the resulting contractions were enough to persuade me not to do it more than once or twice), so I had no idea if I was waiting to finish dilating or if I was just waiting at that point for something that I wasn’t going to get.
I decided I was done and started pushing. To do it during a contraction hurt. As it faded away the pain did, too, but it still hurt enough at the beginning of it that I didn’t want to. It felt great to push when I wasn’t having one, but the act of pushing seemed to bring one on. It was a no-win situation. I bucked up and just kept pushing. All of a sudden, I felt a strong whoosh! by my hand (I had it near my vagina to see if I could feel the head bulge). Shocked that my water had broken, I giggled and told Beto. We both knew it was going to be very soon.
I told him that while I was glad my water had broken, I was nervous now. I knew the water acted like a bugger in regards to pain. Things were going to get tough now. The first contractions or two after weren’t that bad. I checked to see where her head was and barely got to the second bend in my finger. Suddenly the contractions were INTENSE.
I flew up to a standing position and was bucking and moving all over in an attempt to get away from my body. I had no idea how to cope. There was no way I could stay in one position. I started whining to Beto that I didn’t know what I wanted. He thought I meant in regards to staying home or going in for drugs. I was talking about position, but couldn’t get anything other than, “I don’t know what I want” out.
Just then Sundi and Scarlet came back in (they had gone for a walk for a minute). I panicked and sent Beto out to get them out of the house. By the time he got back to the bathroom, I was in the throes of another contraction. I decided to just deal with it and pushed. I could feel the head right there at my perineum! I kept my hand stationed right there and kept pushing.
Every now and then, Beto would pause in his chanting (gotta love a man who does it for close to 2 hours!) to tell me to pause long enough to catch my breath. He had listened to me tell him for 9 months that the “hold your breath and push” routine they do in the hospital can be bad and he didn’t want me to cause issues for myself. I would push for as long as I could and then pause long enough to take a couple quick breaths and do it again. I pushed this way for about two minutes.
Earlier we had talked about when to turn the camera on and I said we should wait until the head was out. As it got nearer to that point, Beto would ask during a pause if I wanted him to turn it on (it also meant turning on the light so he wanted to be able to warn me). I insisted we wait since I didn’t want a bunch of footage of me grunting and straining. I also thought after the head was born I would have a minutes break and I figured that would be enough time to get the camera going (good thing we had it in the bathroom with us!).
All of the sudden her head popped out! I told him to quickly get the camera and as I waited I felt her turn and start to slide out. I told Beto he needed to hurry as he scrambled to get it turned on. As he opened the view finder her body slipped the rest of the way out. I quickly grabbed her and lifted her to my chest. We did it!!! We filmed for a second and then Beto turned the camera off. We were elated.
About three minutes later, Sundi walked in. She had taken Scarlet to my mother-in-law’s house to play with a niece. As she walked in the door Beto shouted, “We have a baby!” She thought he meant we were having her. She was quite shocked when she walked in and saw a baby already there. She sat there with me talking while Beto did some more filming (on our personal camera) and then left to get Scarlet. It had been about an hour by that point and we knew her tolerance was going to start fading. While he was gone, Sundi and I talked. She comes from a family of home birthers (7 of 9 kids in her family were born at home), so she has been thinking about it in regards to when she has a baby.
As we sat there she admitted that I had solidified the idea in her head and that she now wanted an unassisted birth. It had been about 20-30 minutes since the baby had been born and I could feel my pelvic area get full again. I hadn’t even tried to push the placenta out yet but it was obvious it was ready. I gave a quick little push and out it came.
I pulled it up to make sure everything was there and we looked it over and talked about it. Sundi is in school to be a nurse but had never seen one in person. I showed her the “tree of life” on the baby side of the placenta and flipped it over to show her the maternal side. It looked a tad chunky; like pieces were missing so I ran my fingers over it to clear the blood off a bit. It seemed to be mostly blood clots that were missing so I decided not to worry about it and let it settle to the bottom of the tub. I spent a few more minutes soaking and then wanted out.
Sundi grabbed a blanket and I passed the baby up to her. She got her wrapped up and then I passed the placenta up and she wrapped it in the bottom portion of the blanket. She walked into the living room with the baby. Meanwhile, I squatted to make sure I didn’t have any clots sitting at the opening of my vagina and then pulled the plug to the tub. I stayed in and made sure everything went down the drain and then got out and got dressed. Talk about an easy clean up!
I joined Sundi and the baby in the living room and got settled on the couch. Just then Beto and Scarlet joined us and we got things ready to cut the cord. I wanted to wait a tad longer but we had some family coming over and we didn’t want a placenta in my lap when they showed up. Beto tied the cord with a crochet tie I had made and then cut it while Sundi filmed it. It bled a little which made me wish we had kept it intact a tad longer. We double bagged it and Sundi took it outside to the garbage for us.
We called various family members to tell them they could come. By now they already knew the baby had been born. We had a few stop by and after about 15 minutes they left and we got ready for bed. It had been a long day!
Marisol Isavel was born at 8:23 pm on August 23rd. She weighed in at 6 pounds, 13 ounces (the following day) and was 18.5 inches long. I finally measured her head almost a week later and it was 14 inches.
Scarlet is totally in love and Beto is proud and brags it up to anyone who asks. After Scarlet’s rough birth, it was awesome to be able to say that I delivered my baby by myself in our tub at home with just my husband present to watch.