The Homebirth of Evelyn Rose
This will not be your traditional homebirth story. As doulas, we take on many different roles of support for our clients. When a client who has hired you, tells you that they no longer need your services because they lost their baby, how do you typically respond? Do you encourage them to continue services with you and attend their birth? Do you feel uncomfortable and express condolences but feel relieved that you do not have to support them in their loss? Do you not respond to their message? Yes, many doulas have done this! Do you refer them to a bereavement doula1? Do you wish you knew how to support them?
Let me share this birth story with you. As you read it, I want you to think about how this birth is similar to most births. I encourage you to wonder how you could support this woman and her family. I challenge you to see this story for what it really is and I want you to respond to this story. Not only will this story help you see birth and loss a bit differently, your response to this story will help the mother greatly through her grief journey. I present to you, The Homebirth of Evelyn Rose.
After a c-section for my breech son in 2011, I promised my next baby that he or she would be born at home. I always felt peace about setting my ideal birth environment. When we learned we were expecting a baby, we excitedly began to plan our home birth with our midwife and doulas. This was to be our rainbow baby after three early losses in 2014.
Tragically, we learned at nearly 12 weeks that baby Evelyn passed away two weeks prior. We were beyond heartbroken. We decided natural miscarriage was what we wanted. For days I tried walking and herbs, but the attempts failed to bring on the contractions needed to initiate and complete the miscarriage, so my OB prescribed Cytotec.
I was nervously shaking as I inserted the tablet, this would be my first time experiencing contractions and labor. My first contraction happened at 12:30pm, half an hour after insertion, and they continued to increase throughout the day. By 6:30pm the contractions progressed to every 3-5 minutes, lasting for 30 seconds. I was still able to work through them so I put my son to bed and prepared for the journey ahead.
By 9:30pm things picked up; I held my husband tight to make it through contractions. Thirty minutes later, at 10pm, things took a serious turn. Deep within me, during the start of an intense contraction, I felt my heart shatter. I knew this was it, my baby was to be born tonight. I grabbed hold of my husband and sobbed into his chest, a mixture of pain and grief, as the contraction took over me. It was then that he realized the gravity of the situation.
My contractions quickly increased, lasting 2-3 minutes, with 15-30 seconds to rest in between. I went back and forth between the bed, tub, and toilet; nothing was bringing relief as there was no weight of the baby to allow for gravity to help me with the work. Seconds before she was born I was screaming into my husband’s arms “please no more, please let this be the last one!” I delivered Evelyn at that moment.
The feeling of delivering my sweet sleeping baby frightened me to my core. I’ve never felt so torn. I felt strong for making my first birth journey with her. I delivered my baby at home… But there was only sadness to be found in this moment, knowing that here on earth she would never take a breath of air, never smile with me, or hear me tell her “I Love You”. I sobbed over my baby and apologized to her over and over.
I took her to the bathroom, and tucked her away into a burial package for service at a later time. At that moment, my exhaustion took over. I stumbled into the tub seeking rest, with my head passed out over a pillow that my husband lovingly brought in. I laid with my head on the pillow, ignoring the continuing contractions, mourning the loss of my beloved daughter.
The contractions never ceased, and I began to hemorrhage and vomit at 12:30am. In my postpartum haze I forgot that a placenta is supposed to deliver shortly after baby. I ended up passing countless clots, many the size of oranges, and massive amounts of blood, all the while thinking I was passing placenta and after birth. By the time we realized that I was hemorrhaging (at 4am), I was in serious condition, our bedroom and bathroom resembling a grotesque crime scene.
When we arrived at the ER the hemorrhage was out of control. The ER crew administered four bags of fluids, and set up a transfusion line in the event that I could not be stabilized before surgery, while the OB OR crew was coming in and setting up for surgery. I had an emergency D&C to remove the placenta and an even larger clot that could not pass.
When I woke up from surgery the nurse looked over and reassuringly said “it’s over, you’re going to be ok.” I immediately burst into tears, knowing I would never be the same again.
Let me share with you a few statements she shares that are so similar to births we frequently attend. “Contractions…” – Just like live birth contractions. She monitors them and they progress. How can you help her here knowing that she is giving birth to death, not life?
“I felt my heart shatter…” – How many mothers tells us they know the baby is coming? It doesn’t matter that this baby has passed, this mother knows her body and her baby. How can you support and encourage her here?
“Please, no more, please let this be the last one!” – How many of us have heard our clients say this same thing right before their baby was born? What would you say to her here?
Let’s look beyond this birth story at another, glaring issue. This experience happened at home. While this mother wanted a homebirth and she felt very strong to have delivered her baby at home, I cannot tell you how many mothers are sent home with Cytotec to do this exact thing with no idea of the road ahead of them. This mother, had the complete support of a bereavement doula. She had been preparing for days for this experience and understood this would be just like labor but sadly, many women do not understand the gravity of what they will experience.
Many women are traumatized as they labor with excruciating contractions alone (or if they are lucky, with their partner). Many women have no idea they are going to birth their very tiny baby, who may be completely formed. Many women do not understand what to do with their baby2 and some unexpectedly flush the toilet only to be filled with concern and guilt later. And even still, many women do not know what to do with their baby and if there is any opportunity for bonding.
There is a theme here. Women should not go through this experience alone, in every aspect. Women need and deserve the support of a doula. If you do not feel comfortable supporting women through loss, you have options. Get training3, refer out. Don’t let women go through this experience alone; without presenting what the experience may look like, without giving them their options. We can’t rely on the doctor or midwife to give this to their patient. I will share with you how this mother’s doctor responded.
“You are going to miscarry your baby. Call us in a few days.” That’s all she was told. She was given no paperwork, no empathy, no compassion, no information on what this experience might look for her and when she contacted her care provider again when nothing happened in those “few days,” they responded with, “What do you want us to do about it?” She found another care provider who helped her and provided her with more compassion but it still wasn’t enough for her to fully comprehend all she was facing.
For my final note, I will just make this statement. You see clients giving birth to their “rainbow babies” who have been through this experience. You may not even know it because there is such a silence surrounding miscarriage. Society does not recognize miscarriage as birth. After reading this story…DON’T YOU CONSIDER THIS BIRTH?
In loving memory of Evelyn Rose, born July 11, 2015
*Photo courtesy of author
Elizabeth Petrucelli, SBD, CCCE ((http://elizabethpetrucelli.com)) is the author of All That is Seen and Unseen; A Journey Through a First Trimester Miscarriage and “It’s Not Just a Heavy Period; The Miscarriage Handbook.” She is a childbirth educator, birth & bereavement doula and owner of Dragonflies for Ruby; an organization dedicated to serving families through the loss of their baby. When she is not educating birth professionals on pregnancy loss, she is an advocate who raises awareness for first trimester loss. She lives in Parker, CO with her husband and two living sons.