My journey with the Birth Cottage started during a global pandemic while I was already 37 weeks pregnant. It had been just moments after arriving home from a routine prenatal visit. A visit which had crushed me and had left me with more questions than answers. These feelings weren’t new to me. This was what I had come to know as normal whenever visiting a doctors office. I frequently felt unheard, uncertain of the information relayed to me and most of all, unseen. I am a woman of color and a first generation American. For me, every interaction with the healthcare system causes me a great deal of anxiety. This day was the worst. I had just been told by an OB whom I met that day that I could “try” for a vaginal birth if I wanted to, but it was not their recommendation as my chances of success would be less than 30%. A score they had quickly calculated not by my individual health status or status during pregnancy, nor the status of my baby, but instead by a racist, outdated VBAC calculator which deducts substantially based on race. Something in me said enough and I decided to seek a second opinion. I am so happy that I did.
When I called the cottage, the woman on the other line was compassionate and informative. She advocated for me as I reached the verge of tears, validating my every feeling. We spent nearly half an hour over the phone as she answered all my questions, calmed my anxiety and began the process of transferring my care. She prioritized my situation and scheduled me to come into the office just a few days later. My first day in person was nothing like a doctors office. I was greeted by the incredible midwives Adrian and Marissa. The cottage was absolutely gorgeous, resembling more an Air B&B or upscale hotel. During my visits, they cared about me as a person. They wanted to learn about me and cared about me not solely as an individual but also about my family as a whole. It was like nothing I had ever experienced in a healthcare setting. I kept waiting for the experience to turn negative, it all seemed too good to be true. I remember the first appointment feeling anxious and waiting to hear how they were sorry to tell me this but I wouldn’t qualify for an out of hospital birth or how things would potentially be harder for me or go wrong- but that moment never came. Instead the opposite happened. Every visit I was met with comments on how I would succeed, how healthy, strong and capable I was, and how happy and excited they all were for me.
Then the unexpected happened.. My previous provider began to harass me for dropping them as my care team. I started getting calls from nurses asking me if I knew I had a scheduled cesarean section in a few weeks and emails and messages on my patient portal from my provider asking if I understood how dangerous an out of hospital birth would be for someone like me. Someone. Like. Me. Which meant what? A non white person? I tried to be objective to the situation. Going over it constantly in my head but the facts were that I had a low risk pregnancy with no current or past health conditions. So why was I at risk? What they would constantly mention were my “risk factors”. Those mainly being 1) a woman of color and 2) having a high BMI. I could agree those factors existed but what I couldn’t agree with was being made to feel guilty for wanting to vaginally deliver my baby when I was perfectly healthy. Despite the factors I had, my blood pressure was great and I had gained within the recommended range during my pregnancy. When I challenged them with this information they would pick apart something else to cause me fear. Going as far as saying that because I had gone to 41 weeks 1 day pregnant with my son, that would most likely happen again and that cannot happen again because my daughter would most likely be still born if it did. Then tried to barter with me because of how much they “cared”, that if I truly wanted a vaginal birth they would like to schedule me for an induction. The fear mongering was intense. It was almost enough to make me leave the Birth Cottage.
Once again I called the cottage in a panic thinking I would cancel my appointment and just have a cesarean. Once again I was met with science. Evidence based proof that I could do this. Reminders of my strength. Reminded how my child’s birth was MY EXPERIENCE and I had a say in it..
At the following appointment midwife Marissa went above and beyond. She met me with an official copy of my emergency cesarean report. It was the first time I ever saw it. To this day I don’t even know the doctors who delivered my son because I met them that very day, just moments before my first and only surgery. Marissa went through every part of the report and explained to me how most of what happened may have been prevented/avoided. Yes, they had saved my son’s life but they had also caused his life to be in danger. The mood was tense as I weighed everything in my mind wondering if I was truly making the safest decision for myself and my baby. Then Marissa made me laugh! Her realness and her energy helped me remember she thoroughly cared about us and I knew our health and our safety was her priority. At an appointment around 39 weeks pregnant I asked her what would happen if I needed to be transferred to the hospital during labor. She looked at me, explained what would happen should that situation arise. That complete vote of confidence, after only knowing me for about a week and a half at that point, was more than I’ve ever gotten from a care professional in my entire life.
A week after that appointment on my exact due date I went into labor. I arrived at the cottage a few moments before 11am. Upon arrival I was allowed to do something that shocked me… I was allowed to just labor. When I had my son at the hospital two years earlier I was met with every intervention know to man. Put on a bed, hooked up to machines, constantly interrupted and told what to do by nurses.. I was offered drugs at every breath despite voicing my desires to have a drug free birth. When I asked for gas I was told it wouldn’t work and led to have narcotics instead. When I was walking, I was told to return to the room to be checked. When I was laboring well in the tub, I was told to lay down instead. When I complained of feeling exhausted, I was told to get an epidural so I could rest and so those with me could rest as well. I felt guilty, but I also felt “difficult” for wanting to have the birth experience I had envisioned. As a woman of color you learn to never want to seem difficult so I would give in. I mean, they are the professionals, right? Ultimately I labored in agony the majority of the time on a bed for a grueling 26 hours before finally being taken for an emergency cesarean due to both lack of progress and fetal distress.
I was devastated. I felt like I had failed not only my son but also myself. A trauma that stayed with me for such a long time. I had worked so hard to maintain a healthy pregnancy. I developed a birth plan but it was all for nothing. When my son was born I was so drugged my left arm was completely numb. It would be hours before I could hold him and process everything that was happening. The recovery of that surgery was one of the hardest experiences I’ve ever been through.
This time around with Marissa and Adrian, everything was different. I found my groove. My husband and I bounced on birthing balls. We walked every inch of the birth center. I used chairs to stretch as my husband rubbed my back. Rarely was I interrupted. When necessary, Marissa would find me wherever I was to ensure my baby was safe and I was doing well. She performed fetal heart checks, she and Adrian gave me words of encouragement. They kept reminding me of my birth plan. Labor pain was intense but felt it was nothing like I had remembered enduring.
Progressively the pain became worse. Marissa preformed a cervical check and discovered I was in transition but had something called a cervical lip. She went in and manually pushed on my cervical lip during contractions until it was gone. And once it was, I was immersed in the birth tub. Marissa started suggested positions to try, breathing techniques, playing soft background music and releasing calming essential oils. When I felt weak and tired, she gave me apple juice to sip on.
Effortlessly my body started taking over. With every contraction, I felt more and more connected to my higher self, closer to my baby girl. I began clenching the edge of the birthing as I started to push during contractions. At this point, I had completely surrendered to the process, feeling as if I was somewhere in an alternate existence when Marissa interrupted and said “turn around”. There, in the water, still attached to me by the umbilical cord, was my serene, absolutely perfect in every way daughter Natalía. I DID IT!!!!! I cried out in utter disbelief as I realized my dream of a unmedicated vaginal birth had finally come true. As I sat with the now evidence that there never was anything wrong with me, that I was more than a statistic, a percentage, or a risk factor. I am a mother, and capable of more than I could have ever dreamt possible. It took everything in me to not break out in the ugliest crying face known to man. This experience wasn’t only for me. For my husband out of 3 children, this was the first time he was able to witness vaginal birth and cut the umbilical cord.
Words do not exist to express my gratitude to the team of the Salem/Milford Birth Cottage. They helped me find my voice. They guided me to have the most empowering birth experience of my life. Not only did they help me achieve my VBAC, but it healed my past trauma with healthcare. They are angels to me, and now they are forever a part of my story and a part of my heart.