Zavien Thomas: My Unassisted Birth Story

Where to begin with Zavien’s birth story means going back even further to when I welcomed my 8-year-old, Joplin William, into the world September 5, 2010.  My entire pregnancy, labor and delivery with Joplin was text book medicalized. I had multiple ultrasounds, did every test “recommended” and when the doctor said jump, I jumped. Why? Because at 19/20-years-old, I was taught that the doctor knows best.  I blindly trusted that he would only do what was best for myself and my child, without taking the time to do research and realize that he wasn’t following evidence-based care in so many areas of his practice.  This belief to blindly trust doctors ultimately led to a failed induction and subsequent c-section.  During my induction, I was forced to stay in bed when all I wanted was to move, Joplin moved position several hours in and I was brushed aside by the nurse like my concern wasn’t necessary (he got himself stuck on my pelvic bone and unable to descend, therefore unable to work with my body in dilation.  Even though he was a c-section and not engaged, he was delivered with prominent indents on his head from where he was shoved against my bone.)  I reacted horribly to the epidural and ended up in recovery for over 4 hours, during which time all the “firsts” were taken from me.  Assessments done, bath done, loved on by everyone but me.  By the time I made it out of recovery and “allowed” to have my son, I was so drugged up that I don’t even remember it. I see random pictures taken by others and can’t remember any of it myself, only what others have told me over the years.

By the end of my experience with his birth, I wanted nothing to do with having another child.  I felt robbed of so many moments, so many memories.  I can’t tell you who visited in the hospital, I don’t remember seeing him for the first time. Those first few days are nothing but a blur with no memories at all.  Pictures are all that I have; pictures that I have no memories attached to at all.  I have no doubt that all of this added to how bad my PPD ended up being following the birth of Joplin.  All of this combined, I made the decision I was done having kids.  I never wanted to experience any of that ever again.  To me, child birth was connected to all negative emotions and experiences.

It wasn’t until about 4 years later that I was introduced to Birth Without Fear while living in Georgia that I realized birth didn’t have to be what I experienced.  The birth culture in Georgia, and most our country, is absolutely nothing like it is here in Nebraska.  That realization sparked my desire for another child and knew that it didn’t have to be a repeat of my past experiences.  I could make it mine.  Long story short – 2 losses later, experiencing hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) with both of those pregnancies as I did with Joplin, I again decided no more.  While I knew my birth could be different, pregnancy still was not kind to me.

Fast forward to April 2018, I found out I was expecting again due January 6, 2019.  I started out angry, then scared – scared of once again being too sick to function.  However, that level of morning sickness never came.  I continued to go to the gym until 33 weeks after being in a car accident slowed me down.  Once I knew that I wasn’t going to be bed-ridden sick this pregnancy, the excitement kicked in.  I knew that this labor and delivery was going to be entirely different.  I also knew that I would not be having this little one in a hospital, and the birth center was out of the question as I risked out being a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC).  My first plan was to hire an “underground midwife” (midwife who practices under the radar of the law as it is a felony for Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs) to attend home births in Nebraska and Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs) are not recognized by the state, therefore unable to be licensed).  I couldn’t find one who was taking births.  So, I moved on to contacting a tradition midwife practicing through a Private Membership Association (PMA), utilizing loopholes to legally attend as a traditional midwife within the constraints of the law, set up an appointment with her only to cancel it because of waking up with a migraine.  Ultimately, I decided to listen to my gut and never rescheduled.  Middle of winter in Nebraska, I just had a feeling she wouldn’t make it the 2 hour drive due to a storm, as that would be my luck; plus, I felt given my education and knowledge of birth there was nothing she could do medically that I couldn’t manage at home on my own.

This was the first of many “gut feelings” that carved out my path to having an unassisted childbirth home birth after cesarean (UC HBAC).  I sought prenatal care through my family provider with minimal interventions during pregnancy.  I did seek care twice through L&D, once for a bladder infection causing contractions that wouldn’t settle at about 24 weeks and again at 33 weeks after a car accident when I was having contractions 2-3 minutes apart.  I wasn’t above getting care where care was needed, however birth is a normal body process and not a medical procedure.  I refused to allow it to become anything but what it is meant to be.  I followed my own care at home, I listened to my intuition and I reached out for help when it was necessary.  I bought my birth pool, hired a doula, sought out my support team for my birth (friend and my boyfriend), was blessed with an amazing photographer who offered her services to make the jump over to birth photography (Leslie with Novita Family Photostories) and got excited to have my little one at home without any extra hands in my space than was needed.

My “gut feeling baby would be here” date came and went, I didn’t celebrate Christmas with my new little one like I thought.  Then my “guess date” came and went.  While we all know that due dates are simple a middle date in a range of “the norm”, society has taught us to see it as the end.  Even knowing better, when January 6th came and went with still no baby, it did get frustrating.  I was ready to not be pregnant anymore, (im)patiently waiting for him to decide to make his arrival.

January 11th, we had a snow storm roll in.  Within 30 minutes of the snow starting, while bouncing on the birth ball working on a puzzle I was met with what I can only describe as sharp, knife stabbing cervical pain.  It felt like someone stabbing a knife into my cervix and twisting it, no contractions, just the cervical pain.  It was the most excruciating pain, all I could do the first one was pause on the ball, moaning and trying to figure out how to get off the ball and onto my hands and knees on the floor before rolling onto floor with a small scream.  I continued to feel these inconsistent pains the remainder of the night, working on the puzzle and joking with my mom and boyfriend that this was going to fizzle out like normal anyways.  When I went to bed around midnight, I was glued to my hands and knees.  I slept on my hands and knees with pillows piled under me; I later found out from my boyfriend that I continued to moan throughout the night from the pain; however, I was asleep every time he would ask if I was okay.

January 12th, we all got moving and I was continuing to have the same sharp pains, nothing consistent I could time.  I told my boyfriend to go to work and plow the snow, still not convinced that I was in labor.  My mom (who was visiting from North Carolina and I had not planned on having here for the birth) and I were home with the kids (8, 7 and 2), working on puzzles, playing games and going about our day as normal.  A little after 1pm I went to the bathroom because something felt “off”.  Wiped and realized I had my bloody show; stood up when I was done and immediately hit my hands and knees on the bathroom floor, never even getting my pants pulled up.  This still wasn’t enough for me to be convinced that I was in labor.  Roughly 15 minutes later, with contractions 2-4 min apart and lasting 1-1.5 minutes I made my calls.  Told my doula, friend and photographer it was baby time, while telling my boyfriend he needed to get to his truck and get across town through 6.5 inches of snow.

Laboring through contractions waiting on my pool to get set up

My gut feeling about the midwife not making it from Kearney due to weather was dead on!

My photographer rolled in first, getting stuck in my driveway at an angle due to the snow, followed shortly by my friend.  We all moved upstairs while my mom and photographer got my tub ready with my friend providing much appreciated counter pressure on my back.  Not long after my doula showed up, followed shortly by my boyfriend.  One suggestion of the tub once it was partway filled and it was all I could do to quickly ditch the clothes and jump in.  The one thing I was adamant about my entire pregnancy was the need for a birth tub, which ended up being the one and only comfort measure aside from counter pressure that I utilized during labor.  Zavien was posterior, leading to all back labor.  However, my contractions were drastically different than I had prepared myself for.  Not once did my stomach get hard during them, my back would get tense and uncomfortable, but it was the stabbing cervical pain that I felt during contractions more than anything else.

Helping hands providing strength and grounding during contractions

Joplin and I spent a lot of time talking about labor and delivery, what contractions were, that many moms are loud and while it hurts, that pain is only temporary.  We watched birth video after birth video, talked about where babies come out when they are born and all about the umbilical cord and placenta, what they look like and what they do during pregnancy.  None of that mattered, though.  He saw his mom in pain and being the sweet boy he is, he just wanted to help.  He kneeled outside of the birth tub in front of me, holding my hands during contractions while my friend helped talk him through my labor to ease his mind.  At one point, mid-contraction he asked us where the baby comes out.  That moment was captured in a picture and it is one of my favorite pictures. Mid-contraction and all I could do was laugh my way through it.  At the end, I remember asking him “don’t you remember all of those birth videos we watched and talked about?”  Not at all. So, middle of labor we are all re-teaching my 8-year-old all about birth in a crash course so he would remember what the contractions were doing and where babies come out of.  All the while, the 2-year-old roaming in and out of the room amazed by the fact that I had a giant bath in the middle of the bedroom.

“Where to babies come out?”

Shortly after, my contractions intensified and Joplin began to struggle and get more emotional, but not wanting to leave my side.  The only thing I could do was ask him if he wanted to put on his swimsuit and come in the tub with me.  I’ve never seen the boy move so quick.  He changed and came barreling in with me.  He still needed a task, so while I was kneeling over the edge of the tub during contractions, my boyfriend and friend helped teach him how to provide counter pressure on my back.  While I didn’t get to see his expressions during that time in the tub with me, I heard so many comments about how proud he was in there – looking through the pictures my photographer took, that look of pride on his face brings tears to my eyes every single time.

Big brother, Joplin, helping with counter pressure during a contraction.

A lot of what happened after Joplin jumped in with me is a blur until pushing.  I remember asking for a lot of drinks of water. Asking for ice chips.  At one point a washcloth was wet down, I was so hot in the tub, but even the thought of not being in the water for contractions was unbearable.  It wasn’t long after Joplin got out that I hit transition – and it hit full force.  Most of transition I just remember my friend staying right in my face telling me to breathe and repeatedly telling me “You CAN do this”.  At one point towards the end of a contraction, I glanced up and happened to make eye contact with my mom and gave a pure “puppy dog” look (thank you photographer for capturing that look for an ever-constant reminder of it!), another contraction hit quick after that, but I’ve been told my friend told my mom absolutely no babying me and to tell me to breathe.

My lifeline during labor, I could not imagine going through labor without the grounding and constant reminders to squeeze hands and breathe through contractions.

Shortly after, I got through a contraction and said something about my body was pushing on its own.  I started out hands and knees, kneeling over the side of the tub pushing – I KNEW I needed to be upright.  I was dealing with a posterior baby and I just knew that I truly needed gravity to help.  I had a few flashing thoughts of standing up, but was so worn out (basically 24 hours of hands and knees since the cervical pain started, I was worn out and my legs were so shaky) I kept trying to find a position that worked.

I flipped from my hands and knees onto my side in the tub, leaning against my friend.  My boyfriend was in and out of the room, helping with kids but also trying to support me.  At one point, he walked back in and I asked him if he was still okay getting in the tub with me, that I needed someone, anyone in that tub. I couldn’t keep leaning against my friend from outside the tub, I needed someone in that water with me to lean on and change positions.  He responded with something along the lines of he could but had the other kids to take care of, too.  Next thing I knew, my friend was in the water with me.  It’s since become a joke – she took off her socks and dove in with her clothes on.  She now has what will forever be called her “birth leggings”.

Initially, I started out leaning back against her.  My body hit a “calm”. I can’t say the contractions slowed any, but I can distinctly remember taking several deep breaths and feeling a sense of relaxation between contractions after multiple rolling contractions with no breaks.  Somewhere in all of this began the “poop talk” that I will forever remember as part of my birth.  Having never pushed with Joplin, this was all entirely new to me. And while I KNEW everything always talked about in terms of “how to push” or “breathe baby out” or “let your body push and ride the waves”, my little boy was not budging.  I could feel him right there, I knew it was close, but I could not find a position that felt right.  I couldn’t tell you who said what anymore, but it was one comment after another about pushing like I’m pooping, which turned into comments unrelated to poop which still somehow turned to it.  It was literally everything I needed at that moment to get some laughs in and my mind elsewhere for a moment.

Touch was the best comfort I could find at this point, it kept me grounded and in the moment to ride the waves instead of give in and give up.

My photographer caught a picture that I will always smile and laugh when I see.  During one of my contractions, my friend decided to see if she could see baby.  We knew progress was there, but we all also knew that things weren’t progressing quick enough and little man was being stubborn as a posterior babe.  Mid-contractions, you see her and my doula with huge smiles as my friend said “I can see his head! I see hair!”  All I could respond with that at point was, “WAIT! HE HAS HAIR?!” (My 8-year-old was completely bald until about 2, I was not expecting any hair.)

“I see his head! I see hair!”

Several position changes and an hour of pushing later, kneeing and sitting in the tub wasn’t working.  Baby boy was still crowning and he wasn’t budging.  My friend, doula, and boyfriend (and I believe photographer – she was amazing, hands on a few times. She’s also a friend, so I got the bonus of an extra support and not just someone taking amazing pictures) helped to stand me up from my position kneeling leaning over the side of the tub.  Sometime in the time I transitioned from kneeling to standing, I looked at my boyfriend and all I could say was “I need my mom.” (Mind you – I was dead set my mom was NOT going to be at the birth.). As I was later told, my boyfriend booked it downstairs where she had taken the boys to feed them dinner, told my mom her daughter was asking for her and he would finish feeding the boys, she teared up, said “She asked for her mom?!”, he told her to hurry and get upstairs, where she bolted so quick there was smoking rolling off her heels as she took off.

I vaguely remember standing, one small push and contraction my body did the pushing later and baby boy came FLYING out all at once into my friend’s hands.  Zavien Thomas entered the world at 6:54pm making mama a liar in every way possible.  He wasn’t born before Christmas, he wasn’t born in the middle of the night, and made sure to make his appearance while grandma was here.

Being able to relax in the tub, no extra hands all over and soak in my birth was amazing – part of my favorite memories from Zavien’s birth. I turned around after my friend caught him, in awe that I had just done this. Yet, my first distinct thought came as I turned around and slid down into the water. At that moment, all I could think was “Oh my god! So much better!” After an hour of my sweet boy crowning, the amount of relief I felt took over everything while I took deep breaths and felt my body slowly relax. Slowly, the relief started to subside as pure love, joy and pride began to take over.

First time seeing Zavien as I turned around collapsing into the tub.
First time holding Zavien.

I couldn’t tell you how long we spent in the tub before we moved to the bed for snuggles. I handed my sweet boy back to my friend and worked out way out of the tub, which was a challenge in itself that makes me laugh looking back on it. Zavien’s cord was incredibly short, add in being wet from the pool, me being shaky, and Zavien still slippery from birth it took all hands to safely get my friend and I over the side of the pool without tugging on the cord and keeping a grip on Zavien.  I had planned on not cutting the cord until after the placenta was delivered, but his cord was too short and after about 1.5 hrs of no placenta, I made the decision to tie off and cut his cord so that I could get up onto my feet.  Shortly after, the placenta was delivered, Zavien was cleaned up (though he didn’t need much – he was born with no vernix whatsoever left, so nothing to rub in) weighted, measured and swaddled for cuddles.  We struggled with the scale, came up with 6lbs 9oz and 19in…as we later discovered the scale we used was WAY off and he was only 5lbs 8oz.

Smiling already, this picture perfectly describes Zavien’s calm, happy demeanor he has continued to have since birth.

Choosing to have an unassisted home birth was by far the best choice I ever could have made.  My birth is nothing but amazing, happy, loving memories. Relaxed, peaceful and exactly how I envision birth as being.  Joplin was cuddled up reading Zavien his first book at just a couple hours old. I could curl up in my own bed, without people in and out every 10 seconds.  Shower in my own shower, love on my little boy in my own space where I was happy and comfortable, on my own schedule.  All thanks to me listening to my gut instincts and having the support of some of the most amazing people!

Looking up at his mama, wide awake and alert.
Such a proud big brother.

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1 Comment

  1. You are amazing. Your assisting son…amazing. Your support…fabulous. I know your Mother was amazed.


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