Waterbirth Times Two: Zachary and Amelia
Our twins’ waterbirth this past spring defies conventional medical wisdom, but it proved to be one of the most rewarding choices we’ve ever made. Two days past their due date, our twins were born in a tub of water at our midwife’s birth center; Zachary weighed 8 lb. and Amelia weighed 8 lb. 3 oz.
Three years ago, I entered a warm tub of water some sixteen hours after my water broke. We hoped the water would help me through transition, which is typically the most difficult phase of labor. Several minutes later when I felt the urge to push, I was ushered to the bed because the hospital’s policy forbade waterbirth. Although James’ birth was beautiful, I later wondered how water could have enhanced the experience. Of course, I never dreamed that three years later I would have a twin waterbirth.
When my husband, Jon, and I found out we were expecting again, we began prenatal care with a local certified professional midwife in hopes of having a gentle out-of-hospital birth. We opted against routine ultrasound exams, but when I started measuring unusually large, our midwife suggested one. So, in the twenty-fifth week of pregnancy we scheduled an ultrasound at our local hospital.
The ultrasound technician took about thirty minutes to perform the routine diagnostic measurements before she turned the monitor so that Jon and I could see. She moved the utltrasound over my abdomen while she explained what we were viewing–the heart, the stomach, the head. Then in a casual deadpan tone she said, “and here’s the other head”. Jon’s jaw dropped and he put his hand to his forehead. I just kept saying, “Oh, my God!”
We immediately shared the exciting news with our family and friends, most of who assumed we would now seek the care of an obstetrician. However, we questioned the pervasive opinion that twin pregnancies are inherently high-risk, and spent the next couple of weeks researching and weighing our options. We understood that I had a greater ‘potential’ to become high-risk, but as long as I was able to continue a healthy pregnancy, we found no convincing reason to curtail our plans for a natural birth in water.
THE BIG, BIG DAY
I’d experienced a great deal of discomfort in the last few weeks of pregnancy, and by the time I was two days past my due date (twins usually come 2-3 weeks early), my massive belly was a source of acute physical and emotional strain. We decided enough was enough! In hopes of jump-starting labor, Jon massaged me and applied acupressure for two hours, and I drank a protein shake with castor oil in it.
By 1:30 p.m., my contractions were 3-4 minutes apart, and I knew the babies were finally on their way. We left for our midwife’s birth center at 4:00 p.m., nervous and excited. While driving, I became worried that my contractions were fizzling out so I applied acupressure to the roof of my mouth; that is, I started sucking my thumb. I also used nipple stimulation, another tried and true natural technique to strengthen contractions. I was determined! (I tried to be modest, but it was broad daylight and I’m sure some truck drivers got a big kick out of me.)
We arrived at the birth center a half hour later, and by 6:00 p.m. the contractions had become longer, stronger, and closer together. I felt a definite need to focus and calm myself. I reclined-as best I could-on the queen-sized bed, with our midwife, her apprentice, and another midwife kneeling around it watching me closely. To help me relax, Jon lit candles throughout the pleasant, homey birthing room and turned on some music (Loreena McKennitt’s “The Book of Secrets”). Now it was time to test the waters, so to speak.
Labor was progressing much more rapidly than it had with James. As the hot tub was filling next to the bed, the urge to push became irresistible. Would I even make it to the water for a waterbirth? I bore down in the bed through one strong contraction and then lumbered my way to the tub. Before stepping in, I had to hunch over the edge of the tub to push through another contraction. By now I could feel the first baby moving through my pelvis.
As I lowered myself into the tub, the warm water embraced my enormous belly, thereby lessening its weight. Jon knelt next to me, where he coached me to relax, breathe and “let go”. Here we were, just like we had envisioned. I was relieved to be in the comfort of the water. The labor sensations were intense, but I also felt a renewed energy. Electricity buzzed throughout my body, but I was able to relax and converse between contractions. I would soon be holding my newborn babies!
I was amazed by the speed with which Zachary’s head emerged, and at 7:29 p.m., on the fourth push, I was able to “catch” him and pull him up through the water, bringing his slippery, warm body to my chest. I was so thankful to have him out, but I quickly remembered that I needed to muster the energy to do it all again. In fact, I would probably need more energy for the second baby, whom we expected to be breech.
Wide-eyed and remarkably calm, Zachary remained on my chest with his umbilical cord trailing down my still very round belly. Our midwife reached down into the water to manually assess the second baby’s position and condition. Twin two was frank breech (coming out butt first), which meant getting him/her through my pelvis would be more challenging.
With several extremely intense pushes and the skillful assistance of our midwife, baby Amelia was born at 7:52, twenty-three minutes after her brother. Our midwife brought Amelia out of the water and placed her on my chest next to Zachary. Jon yelled, “Wow!”. There I was, holding over sixteen pounds of newborn baby! I was overwhelmed and completely relieved, and I remember how alert and peaceful the four of us were.
My sister had joined us in the room early enough to witness both births, and my parents arrived with three-year-old James shortly after Zachary’s grand entrance. While my mother had occupied James (with chocolate) just outside the open door, my father watched intently as Amelia came into the world. My mother brought James in immediately after Amelia was born. He was bubbling with excitement and couldn’t wait to touch and hold the babies. He commented that he’d never seen a red bathtub before (referring to the color of the water).
Then Jon’s mother arrived (his father was in Florida) and she broke into tears upon the sight of her two new grandchildren. It was a wonderful birthday celebration! Jon, the babies, and I remained in the water for another fifteen or twenty minutes. After the placentas were born and Jon cut the cords, I felt rested enough to make my way into bed to cuddle and breastfeed the babies. Everyone stayed until about 10:00 p.m., and then Jon and I settled down for the night with our two new bundles. Eventually, our emotional exhilaration was overcome by our physical exhaustion, and we all enjoyed a few hours of sleep. At noon the following day, we went home. Of course, our journey had just begun.
I believe I was able to have such an amazing birth experience because I had faith in my body and the natural process. I took responsibility for my decisions by researching my options and weighing the benefits and the risks. Furthermore, I did everything I could to stay healthy and low-risk: I focused on nutrition (extra calories and protein) and exercise, and I avoided harmful substances.
I feel the experience empowered me in many ways, and I’m grateful for the people and opportunities that helped turn our wishes into reality. I think Zachary and Amelia would agree!