Our midwife, Shannon Stellhorn, asked me to write this testimonial and I’ve resisted for far too long. I’m a recovering alcoholic and one of the most supportive things to help me in my recovery was listening to others’ stories. It’s a way for me to relate my experiences and understand that I’m not alone. So I’ve come to the realization that there could be someone out there who shares similar fears in pregnancy and home birth that I walked through. Maybe my story could help someone else? So here goes nothing!
My wife (D) and I have three boys and all of their deliveries have been completely different, from cesarean section to home birth. The first two were hospital births and were chaotic, stressful, and left my head spinning for days afterwards. My wife is a champ and one of the strongest human beings I know. I cannot imagine having to go through what she’s gone through. It was tough enough on me being the father and husband but to be the mother and walk through what she has? I commend her! The last was one was a home birth and one of the most magical adventures I’ve ever experienced.
E was our first. He’s an absolute joy to raise, our biggest helper, and our best friend. He’s full of love and compassion. He’s our sensitive one but he’s strong and confident about himself. It’s amazing to me to watch him grow up. There’s always something special about your first and E is no different. D and I were dead broke when we got pregnant with him. I was in college and working full-time for a retailer and my wife was a waitress. We were living with my parents at the time and barely had a dime to our name. We didn’t have insurance so we applied for and received Medicaid and went that route. We were young and ignorant to pregnancy, raising kids, and even our rights as future parents. We thought the only route available was through an OB and in a hospital. D was diagnosed with gestational diabetes early in the pregnancy and we struggled with it the entire way. The OB was suggesting insulin shots but D wasn’t having it. She was given a strenuous diet and implemented some exercising to try and get those glucose levels down. The OB was scaring us with stories of ten pound babies and emergency C-sections. She wanted to induce at 38 weeks and D wanted it natural. We took the physician’s advice and scheduled an induction.
The day of delivery approached and we arrived at the hospital on time and were as ready as we could be for what was about to come. They called the doctor and we began the Pitocin drip. It wasn’t long after that she began to have some contractions and discomfort. Almost immediately, the nurses began to notice something wasn’t right. With each contraction, E’s heart rate would plummet! They called the doctor and over the phone, she began preparations for an emergency C-section, without consulting with us. Here we go! We didn’t know what the hell we were doing and had no clue what to ask or say. We just went along for the ride and listened to our doctor. It wasn’t what D wanted but these guys are medical professionals, right? The C-section was a success and E was born healthy and happy. He wasn’t a massive ten pounder as the doctor warned. He weighed 7 pounds, 13 ounces and was 19 inches long. Not quite the giant we were believed to be having! Nothing about this pregnancy seemed right. Looking back, we feel like we were lied to and manipulated to fit the physician’s schedule. If you don’t want to be woken up at 4 a.m. to deliver a baby, don’t become an OB!
We waited a few years until we got pregnant with our second, R. R is our wild child. He’s 18 months old and into everything. He’s adventurous, out-going, and just an overall cool kiddo. When we got pregnant with R, we had growing careers, our own home in Katy, insurance, and were on a path to success. D began almost immediately with talks of a home birth. Our first wasn’t what she wanted and she didn’t trust doctors anymore. She wanted a natural VBAC. I’m a scientist. I’m used to sterile laboratories and high-tech equipment. I was completely opposed to the home birth idea, especially with a VBAC. We went around and around with the discussions. We even met with a midwife at a birth center but it didn’t feel right. I was too nervous about the first pregnancy still so I put my foot down and we elected to find one of the best VBAC OB’s in the city. We got an appointment and she agreed to take us. Her staff was amazing, she had an awesome nurse practitioner, and she was one of the best OB’s in the business. D was a prime candidate for VBAC and she accepted our case and our desires. She was affiliated with Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women Hospital. They were able to accommodate anything we wanted; water birth, wireless heart monitors, birth bars, etc. D, though not 100% satisfied, was getting a majority of her list checked off here.
The pregnancy was fairly normal. R was growing at a great rate and D was comfortable. There was no gestational diabetes and things were going smoothly. We hired a doula and a photographer, who are both dear friends. Things were rolling along without a hitch. We hit 38 weeks and there were no signs of development. At 39 weeks, we’re starting to discuss alternatives to the plan. At 40 weeks, the physician is getting nervous and says that 41.5 is the limit. At 40.5 weeks, she’s starting to talk induction and possible C-section. What happened to our wants and desires? On the Thursday of week 40, we reluctantly schedule an induction for Monday morning pushing us to exactly 41.5 weeks, the absolutely limit. D is pretty bummed but we’re once again taking medical advice regardless of our desires.
Friday comes and there’s something in the air. D is out with her doula at lunch and she starts picking up on it as well. I don’t know what it was, but there was some force working in our favor. I found an opportunity to sneak out of work early and decided to take it. I get home around 2 and D is still at lunch. She gets home a little bit later complaining of discomfort. She goes to the restroom and has some spotting. We contact the nurse practitioner and she demands that we head to the hospital immediately. D decides to take a shower. Really!?! This allows me time to pack a bag and lay some towels down over my nice leather seats in the car. We laugh about this still today. It’s nearly 4 o’clock and I’ve got to drive in Friday traffic from Katy to the Medical Center. Contractions are growing stronger and D is a fair amount of pain. We jump in the car and take off. I’ve never driven that fast or reckless in my life. I’m doing 100+ mph down I-10, lights flashing, and passing people on the shoulder. I’ve got to get to the hospital and fast! It took me 25 minutes. That’s got to be a record!
We arrive and are rushed to triage. D’s water breaks almost immediately upon arrival. They get her wired up and can’t find a pulse. Here we go again! They rush us to labor and delivery and start calling the physician. We get to L&D and they’re still having problem finding a heart rate. D has to poop! There’s this fear of shitting on the delivery table so we’ve got to clean the pipes first! We get settled in and they’re still trying to find a heartbeat. Finally one is located but it’s weak. The nurse hits the panic button and all hell breaks loose. Before I know it, we’ve got 10 nurses and 3 doctors flooding into the room, none of whom we know or recognize. Lights are flashing, sirens are blaring, and I’m pacing trying to stay out of the way. We’re terrified! The doula is in route but caught in traffic. The photographer is on the other side of town and fighting Houston roadways herself. This is not going as planned! One nurse mentions a possible C-section. D is adamant about not having another surgery.
She’s feeling pressure and it’s clear that we’re having this baby soon. I don’t know where she came from or who she was but there was another nurse who came out of nowhere and left about as mysteriously. She was just what we needed at that moment. She looked at D and asked if she was ready and wanted to push. D nodded or spoke or something; I couldn’t quite see or hear in all of the chaos. All I see are legs flying up in the air and this one miracle nurse encouraging labor. A couple of minutes into pushing, our doctor arrives. She throws her purse in the corner, pulls her hair back in a ponytail, slaps an apron on, and gets to work. I finally get an opportunity to get to my wife. I grab her hand and rub her head and try to muster up what encouragement I can find but I’m freaked the fuck out! At a little after 5 p.m. and only after about 5 minutes of pushing, our second son is born vaginally!
Umbilical cord is wrapped tightly around his neck but he’s just as healthy as the first. He weighed 8 pounds and was 22 inches long. Mystery nurse is nowhere to be found. A few minutes later, the photographer and doula arrive. We didn’t get everything we wanted with this pregnancy but we did get our natural, med-free VBAC without any rupturing. Five months after R is born, we get a little surprise, we’re pregnant again. We knew we wanted three but didn’t quite think it would come this fast. I refer to this pregnancy as our happy surprise! And
I knew what was coming! My wife is going to want a home birth! We’ve just had absolute madness with our first two and there is no way in hell I’m going to allow a birth away from the hospital, in my home, and with a midwife who hasn’t been through medical school. Absolutely not happening! But I agree to entertain the idea and meet a few midwives to feel it out. Maybe if I just go and talk to them, it will pass and we can go back to our old doctor. Until then, we do move forward and get the ball rolling with our old OB.
Shannon is the first midwife on the list to interview. I just know that I’m not going to like her.
She’s trying to brainwash my wife into this home birth deal. It’s all mumbo-jumbo voodoo and everyone involved in this birthing community is a crunchy granola hippie! Odd for me to say that when as I teenager, I was in this new-aged peace and love movement, walking barefooted, wearing cargo shorts and tie-dye with long hair, hemp necklaces, picking flowers while dancing through fields, and chasing jam bands across the country. Shannon was unlike anything I imagined, except for the “Crunchy Granola Midwife” bumper sticker on her minivan parked in her driveway. There is this ambiance about her. She displays this indescribable sense of serenity unlike any that I’ve ever felt with anyone in my life. Here I am, this ultimate skeptic walking into a stranger’s home who I’m already convinced is out to wreck my life and I’m as calm as I can be. I’m relaxed, open-minded, and willing to hear this woman out.
I knew almost instantly after beginning to talk with her that she was genuine. She truly cared for not only the well-being of my wife and future child but for mine as well. She answered every question I had, gave me a thorough run-through of her practice, and made me feel like I was just as important of a part of this process as my wife was. Neither of our previous doctor’s had done anything like this. To them, I was just the man who provided the sperm to fertilize the egg and now it’s my turn to sit back and watch. But Shannon was genuinely interested in me and in my wants and desires for OUR pregnancy.
She has a physician who she consults with should there be a need. She orders ultrasounds and glucose tests. She has 300+ births under her belt by this point in her journey. She uses medical tools and doesn’t carry a ball of string to yank the baby out like you would a calf as I expect. She is professional, kind, encouraging, sympathetic, honest, and practiced safe and responsible care. And though she offers and suggests some advice on how to handle pregnancy and birth, she doesn’t force it down our throats. She is willing and able to provide our wants and desires. She can deliver on what we want. She asks about our past pregnancies and explains that we had options and that some of the things that the OB’s did could have been prevented and some weren’t necessary. We don’t want antibiotic goop rubbed in our child’s eyes the second he’s born but if we do, she can provide it. We want to keep M connected to the placenta for a while after birth to ensure that he gets what he needs and she is able to accommodate that. D wants him brought to her chest after delivery to begin breastfeeding and she can provide that. Everything my wife and I want, she promises to deliver.
I knew after we left (though I think I kept it from my wife for quite some time) that we were going to do this home birth and it was going to be with Shannon. It just felt right. It didn’t take long to realize that D too felt the same way. It became a more difficult decision to tell the OB that we were going to switch to a home birth than to actually go forward with the home birth. With both of our first two pregnancies, I felt obligated to attend every single appointment. I had to be there to make sure that I knew what was going on and how things were progressing. With our home birth, my career was blossoming and I didn’t have the opportunities to attend any of them. I went to the initial meet and greet appointment only. But I rest assured that my wife and my son were in good hands. I trusted Shannon more after one visit than I did with both of our first two OB’s who I saw regularly for 9 months.
M was born on January 22nd at 9:14 p.m. weighing in at 9 pounds, 2 ounces and measuring 21 inches long. He was born in a birth pool in my bedroom in the company of the greatest midwife on the planet, her assistant who will forever be one the most amazing women I’ll ever meet, our incredible doula who provided sound advice and kept our wants and desires in check through the entire process, our dearest friend who is now a doula herself and who I swear was instrumental in our successful home birth, and our photographer who captured our experience precisely how we wanted it. It could not have been a more perfect and more memorable experience.
There were ZERO, ZERO, ZERO complications. No sirens, no flashing lights, no emergency C-sections, no floods of people, no doctors on the phone enjoying their coffee from the other side of town and waiting up until the last moment to get in the car, no schedules to keep, no D Cells, no chaos, no calamity! Nothing went wrong! Everything was peaceful and serene. We listened to music. We chatted. We laughed. We ate pizza. The word “PUSH” was never once uttered in my home. I cannot begin to verbalize the overwhelming sense of tranquility that existed in OUR space for those short 6 hours. I got to sit in my favorite red chair that my wife hates, hold her hand, gently stroked her face, and be present in the moment with her. Sure, she screamed obscenities. She cursed at me. She made jokes at my expense as she always does. But she was happy. She was in her element. Hell, SHE caught M as he came down the birth canal and joined us Earthside. WE were the first to hold our baby, not a doctor, not a nurse, but us! We got to see him take his first breaths. We got to watch him inspect the world for the first time.
I was pretty sure that D was in early labor that morning but she went to work anyway. I picked her up from work early for a parent-teacher conference at my eldest son’s school. I watched her on the ride and could see that contractions were between 3 and 5 minutes. She insisted that we go ahead and go to the conference anyway. Not a single contraction through that 1.5 hour meeting. The second we get back to the car, they started up again. We got on the phone and began to round the team up.
Shannon was the first to arrive and we both knew what was coming despite D’s insistence that nothing was going to happen. We sat around on our couch and laughed and Shannon began to unpack her things and get settled in. Rowan, the birth assistant, was the next to arrive and we became acquainted and got the house ready for the evening’s events. Ashli, the photographer arrived and tried us as guinea pigs for her GoPro project, which is so cool. We now have a full length POV video of our experience thanks to Ashli! Joli arrived and stayed close to D while she reminded her of the goals and kept her calm. Brittany, our lifelong friend who’s almost like a sister joined us later.
Labor wasn’t quite progressing as fast as we wanted so the girls went for a walk to stimulate things. That had some effect but a little more was desired so Shannon and D took a short ride to the chiropractor for a quick adjustment and to get away from the house for a bit. When they got back things were starting to heat up so Shannon and D took some time to themselves in the bedroom and I went through the nightly routine with our middle son and chatted with the girls. I got R to bed and tried to stay out of the way as I always do. When I went in to check up on the progress, D was already in the pool relaxing but things were definitely getting going. I took a seat in my red chair and kicked back to take in the moment. D started with her humor as the labor increased and we gathered around her and the pool. We joked, laughed, and had a really good time. Outside of my wife being nude in a birth pool in our bedroom in labor, it felt like we were sitting around visiting with friends. Around 9 o’clock things really picked up and my wife’s potty mouth got worse so I knew we were approaching the goal. I grabbed her hand and rubbed her face.
I was nervous but not like any of the nervousness I’d felt with the other deliveries. It was more excitement than nervousness but a different kind of excitement. It’s hard to explain. Having been through two deliveries with D cells and talks of emergency surgeries, I’m worried that another complication could arise but I knew we were in good hands. I looked up at Shannon and she’s as calm and steady as the day I met her. She’s almost floating around the room, checking on D’s progress, lightly talking with the assistant, just as easy-going as she always is. She didn’t display any signs of panic or worry and I knew at that moment that everything was ok and things were going to be perfect. I grabbed my wife’s face and she laid her head down on my hand against the side of the pool. She gave one giant moan, leaned back and out popped M. Again, the word “PUSH” was never whispered, yelled, or spoken in the room. It was absolutely perfect!
So here I sit this former hard-ass who had ultimate trust in hospitals, doctors, and was completely against any kind of home birth with a midwife. I can now tell you that if we ever decide to have another child, we will absolutely have another home birth with Shannon on our side. There is no other alternative for us. Today, my boys are thriving. They’re 4 months, 18 months, and 6 years old. They are the most precious gifts that life has to offer. They can be a serious pain in my ass but I wouldn’t trade my time with them for anything. They’re all healthy! They’re all special! They all have unique stories.
Home birth may not be what you decide but know that you have a choice in how you want your pregnancy to go. You can ask questions, you can make your own decisions! You absolutely have the right to have a voice in how your pregnancy goes. I only wish I had known and understood that 6 years ago. I love you Shannon. I cannot begin to thank you enough for everything that you’ve done for us.You are our miracle worker and will forever be a dear friend and our crunchy granola midwife!