the gifts are on the way

Home Birth and the Journey Home: Twins

1:27 PM

Sara and Rachael Browning arrived not too long after Michael on February 11th, 1986, although there is some doubt around the accuracy of time of birth. The birth certificate was purchased maybe a month after the actual birth because the girls’ arrival resembled that of their brother’s; they were delivered at home by midwife Joan Dolan and her two helpers, an assistant midwife to aid in the delivery, and a midwife certified in the use of a sonogram who gave us up to date information of the movements in utero. A godsend, as it turns out.

That night was a both a miracle and a shit-show. My water broke on the actual due date, no lie, and after calling the midwife, I was moving about the house listening to music, intermittently, dropping to a squat with the onset of contractions, a move guaranteed to facilitate the effectiveness of my labor. After two days of labor with my sluggish first born, I wasn’t interested in dragging this out. Birthing twins require serious energy, and more time in the actual labor process, and the second twin has a limited window after the first to arrive safe and sound. Not dissuaded by the pain this time around, I knew after Michael what to expect; this was going to hurt. I needed to get these babies out, safe and swaddled, and it was up to me to make it happen.

For a safe birth one would always hope for a head-first presentation, allowing the largest body part, the head, to travel through the body first, creating the most space for the torso and hips to follow. Transverse and breech positions open the door for worse-case scenarios, causing the smaller parts of the body to move through the birth canal first, potentially creating some restriction around the neck and head. Twins are often located in positions that are less than desirable for a relaxed and safe birth experience, and my girls were no exception. 

Harry and I had already been informed that there were some…complications. Sara, first in the chute, was presented breach, like she was ready to barrel down a water slide, and slide she did. Just four hours after my water broke, she arrived, all 6 ½ pounds, still breached but enthusiastically present! Labor for Sara was predictable, productive, and fast. Not one to shy away from a new experience, my firstborn daughter was ready to enter the world solo, leaving Rachael to experience all of the new space left in her absence.

And Rachael did what might be expected…she stretched out in her transverse (sideways) position with no part of her easily accessible, content to settle in with her head resting just inches away from my heart. There weren’t contractions any more, my body tired from the exhausting efforts of a natural breech birth, so at first, Joan had me attempt a squatted position while she pushed and massaged Rachael from the outside…but with no results. The clock was ticking and we knew that twenty minutes was about all we had to move her through delivery safely. Our hospitalization back-up plan became less viable with every passing minute between their births. There was an air of hushed, grave concern when, after consulting the sonogram, Joan decided she would need to reach in and pull Rachael out however she could. 

I was in almost a trance as my midwife’s entire forearm disappeared inside of my body, reaching with tactile sensitivity for something familiar, and the pain was intense as her experienced fingers contacted Rachael’s little feet. She locked onto a tiny heel and pulled, coaxing my second born twin into a dangerous footling breech position, feet first. Harry watched in shock as Joan pulled out first just a foot, extending into a leg as if Rachael was in splits…then, another leg was aggressively massaged out of my body, followed by a miraculously unharmed whole baby girl. I was exhausted as I heard cheers from the three midwives, and a very relieved papa. The girls had made it, together, but apart…differently, but they had both arrived safely.

That night, they slept like two peas in a pod, swaddled in a single bassinette, back to back, hearts beating in unison… listening to each other’s breathing as if it had all been just a dream.

My firstborn Michael’s birth had been characterized by a perfectly natural resistance to the pain that is, of course, a part of childbirth. That resistance only made things harder in the long run, and the real movement, the breakthrough, happened when I gave up the fight, and supported what my body was trying to do even when it was painful. 

In contrast, the experience of welcoming the twins became more a lesson in surrender, an opportunity to use the little lessons I had been introduced to the first time around. First, I trusted the people around me with a better vantage point to guide me when my perspective was limited. I also accepted that pain would be a part of it; it almost always is, but eventually the pain would do its work, and it would, after all, come to an end. 

Finally, I remembered that even in the middle of the most painful moment, it’s best to focus on the gifts that are on the way. 

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