A relaxing and personal delivery ends with a healthy baby and a home-cooked meal.
By Jean Weiss for MSN Health & Fitness
Gina Penka felt pressured into an epidural by the nurses when she delivered her first son, Guinness, at a hospital after 26 hours of vicious back labor. She had her second son, Xavier, at a hospital too—this time with a midwife, after 17 hours of natural labor and more back pain. Xavier was 10 pounds 5 ounces, and although he was breastfeeding well, the hospital submitted Gina to two-hour intervals of blood sugar tests. "It was good enough, but it still didn’t feel like a normal birth," Gina says of delivering at the hospital. "We were treated like we were freaky."
Gina became a doula and took a neonatal resuscitation class as part of her training. The course was for anyone who works with newborns, but geared toward home birth midwifery. One moment of learning, in particular, stood out to Gina as a turning point. In many hospitals, the umbilical cord is cut within 30 seconds of birth; a midwife leaves the cord intact for up to 30 minutes, allowing the baby to have two sources or oxygen—one from breathing air into her lungs, the other from the placenta. "I learned a lot about the physiology of the umbilical cord and how the transition works, the mom breathing for the baby to the baby breathing for itself," she says.
Other variables made a home birth seem feasible. Gina lives 10 minutes from a hospital and knew that if anything went wrong, help was nearby. She had a backup plan, with health coverage in case she was admitted to the hospital, and had a full prenatal ultrasound at the hospital to ensure the baby was healthy. The third time she was pregnant, she decided to birth at home.
Her first two babies came early, so Gina thought her third would, too, guessing May 5—but that day came and went and Gina felt ready to pop. The projected due date, May 11, came and went too. Gina had been having contractions by day, but they’d stop right before bed. Finally, she and her husband sent the two boys to Gina’s sister’s house on May 13—Mother’s Day—and spent the day together eating Chinese food and watching movies.
"I went to bed, and the contractions stopped, but I was getting up to go to the bathroom, it seemed like every so often," Gina says. "Then I realized, after getting up 10 times, maybe I didn’t need to go to the bathroom." Instead, she was in labor. She slept in between contractions until the sun came up. She got up too, dialed up her birth music play list on her iPod, and checked her cervix. "Finally, it was changing," says Gina.
She called her midwife and told her to come over. She called her sister, who brought over Guinness, then age 6. The younger son, age 3, didn’t want to come for the birth. Her son and sister got to work in the kitchen, making a birthday cake for the baby. Other women gathered; her cousin, her mother, a doula friend. "I had a lot of women there who were important to me, my husband, and my cat," says Gina. "My cat was a real help. She was right there, snuggling against me when I was lying in bed. She was so calm and catlike. It made me smile."
After Gina moved into a birthing tub she’d set up in her room, the pain she felt from her contractions dissipated. Things progressed quickly from there. "I was moaning really loud, I still had the music playing, I was hitting the hard part of labor," Gina says. "It gets to that intensity when you decide you just don’t want to be in your skin anymore and there is nothing you can do about it except just go through it, move past it, recognize that it is changing you as a person. The best thing you can do is smile. It loosens up your pelvic floor."
Everyone was behind her in the room, except her husband and midwife, who were in front of her next to the tub. "I was smiling and the music was really good," says Gina. "When I was pushing, one of the songs that came on was Elvis Presley’s "‘Burning Love.’" Gina could hear the lyrics: "I feel my temperature rising, it’s burning through to my soul." She also remembers hearing Johnny Cash’s "Ring of Fire."
Gina’s water broke in the tub and she pushed for a while. Then she became irritated with pushing and stopped, then pushed again and pushed her daughter out. "I was in a great mood," says Gina. Her husband and midwife caught the baby, and Guinness announced that they’d had a girl, which was his pre-designated job.
The brothers welcomed their new sister, Minerva, into their home on the day after Mother’s Day: May 14, 2007. "It was so much easier for my sons to see this new baby, right after she came out, and to really know her," says Gina. "It made it easier, especially for my younger son, to share with me. I wasn’t taken away from him," by going to the hospital.
Gina’s entire third labor had lasted four hours. She can recount in detail how long she pushed with both her first two labors, but not with the third, because it didn’t matter. Within moments after her daughter was born, Gina was nursing Minerva, and enjoying a breakfast her family brought to her in bed.
More Birth Stories on MSN Health & Fitness:
Uncertainty of Complications
The Journey from Loss to Life
One Mom's Tale of Natural Childbirth
With Child, and With Cancer
Born in the Fast Lane
Jean Weiss is a regular contributor to MSN Health & Fitness.