Declan Flautt's birth story at the Vanderbilt Birth Center
When I found out I was pregnant with my first baby, William, I called my gynecologist’s office, which is not part of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, to set up an appointment with an OB, knowing I might try to find a midwife before the time came to deliver. The day of my first pregnancy appointment arrived, and I felt all the feelings—excitement, nervousness, anxiousness, etc. One feeling that day was far from what I expected—the feeling of being unwelcome.
When we were in the OB’s office, my husband was somewhat ignored and barely given a chance to speak. Even eye contact with him was, at most, minimum. This was not acceptable. I knew that my dear, sweet husband, Andrew, would be the person by my side the entire birth. I wanted him to feel welcomed to ask questions, and I wanted him to feel a part of the team. After all, this was his baby too.
Looking into all the alternatives
After that, I looked into all the alternatives I could find—home births, birthing centers, midwives at hospitals, etc. The birthing center known as baby+co then and now The Vanderbilt Birth Center came up, and immediately made the top of our list. I loved everything I read online, and after visiting the birthing center for a tour, I knew I 100% wanted to give birth at the Vanderbilt Birth Center. Guess what also helped me make that decision? Answer: My husband felt welcomed and valued as a part of my birth team. Also, I have NEVER met staff at any medical facility as warm and welcoming as those at the birthing center. It only takes talking to one person at the birthing center to know they care about you. In addition to all these wonderful things, the birthing center specialized in low-risk, natural births—exactly what I was looking for.
After one amazing first birth at the birthing center, and one miscarriage (while in the birthing center's care), I was pregnant again, and I knew just who to call for my third pregnancy: the birthing center.
At 37 weeks, it had been confirmed I had “high normal” amniotic fluid levels. Any higher, and I would have been considered to have polyhydramnios, or an excess of amniotic fluid that can cause risk during birth—a risk that would have required me to give birth at Vanderbilt. I was so thankful to only have a “high normal” level at this point.
I started having Braxton Hicks contractions closer together about a week before my due date of December 21, 2019. I remembered this happening with my 1st pregnancy the day before giving birth. Remembering that, sent me into nesting overdrive and gave me a large boost of energy to finish packing my birthing bag. We thought, for sure, we would have this baby in our arms by Christmas day.
Time crept forward
On December 24th, 3 days past my due date, I went into the bathroom to find a small amount of pink, blood-tinged discharge on my panty liner. I thought I would go into labor within 48 hours, surely.
But alas, December 27th arrived, the day of another ultrasound (to check for polyhydramnios again) and my 41st week appointment. I went to the ultrasound appointment desperately hoping all would be well. When the midwife entered, I could tell there was something difficult she needed to say. She tenderly broke the news to Andrew and me that the ultrasound showed I had polyhydramnios. I immediately cried, because I knew that meant I could not give birth at the birthing center —the place I had delivered my first baby. Taneesha, my midwife that day, sat with my husband and I in that moment. She showed her deepest empathy to us.
Then, after letting that sink in, she continued. Since I was a day shy of being 41 weeks AND had polyhydramnios, my midwife suggested for me to be induced at Vanderbilt the VERY NEXT DAY to ensure the safety of my baby and me. I was devastated and sobbing hard at this point. Taneesha, again, gave Andrew and I a moment to let that sink in before saying anything else. I was so appreciative of her gentleness and care! Next, she answered all our questions, and offered to do a membrane sweep to encourage natural induction of labor—emphasizing that it was completely up to me. I said, “yes.” She performed the membrane sweep, scheduled my induction at Vanderbilt, and let me know that a midwife from the birthing center would meet us at Vanderbilt before my induction.
Determined to give birth at the birthing center
I went home determined for labor to start before my induction the following morning. I did as many things to encourage labor as possible: I relaxed. I drank cumin seed tea. I sat/bounced on my birthing ball. I prayed. My sister-in-law worked on acupressure points. I used essential oils. The list goes on.
That night my husband and I prayed again that I would go into labor naturally and not have to be induced. I thought it was possible, but I didn’t think it would actually happen since we were cutting it so close.
At 4:13 a.m., I woke up with cramps. Sleepily, I thought, “Wow! These period cramps are intense. Maybe I can fall back asleep.” Then, I suddenly remembered I was pregnant, and these were NOT period cramps at all, but actually CONTRACTIONS. (Fun fact: I had planned to wake up at 4:30 am, 17 min later than I woke up, to get ready to leave for Vanderbilt.) I told Andrew the happy news, and he excitedly leapt out of bed to get ready.
I called the birthing center to see what needed to happen next. The on-call midwife told me to plan to arrive around the same time I had planned to arrive for the induction, so we arrived at 7 am. I was so thrilled that my body had spontaneously (with some gentle, natural nudges) gone into labor. I was breathing through contractions and smiling at the same time.
Arriving at the birth center
The sweet, Vanderbilt nurses took me to my room not long after arriving. My midwife, Laura, came in shortly after to greet me. What a relief to see a familiar face on such an important day. I was pleasantly surprised at the large room I was given. It was spacious and perfect for walking around while laboring. Even though the room was perfect for labor-walking, my best position for laboring was sitting on a birthing ball. I sat on that ball almost the entire time I labored in the hospital—even while they gave me an IV of antibiotics. That was my main comfort measure of labor. I also sipped on coconut water the entire time, rocked my hips side-to-side and in a circle on the birthing ball, and allowed myself to close my eyes during a contraction—even if this interrupted talking with someone. I put focus on each contraction and honed-in on what my body was telling me to do in those moments. I worked with the discomfort, NOT against it.
At 9 am, midwife Laura checked my cervix. “oh okay,” she said unusually. I thought for sure she was about to tell me that I was only at 4 or 5 cm. NOPE. She said I was 8 cm dilated. My body, after only 6 hours, was at 8 cm! I honestly couldn’t believe it, so I asked Laura to repeat herself. We both laughed and smiled in amazement.
When I felt my body start trying to push, I called for the midwife to come back into the room. When she came in, I decided to try a different position in which to give birth—getting on my hands and knees on the bed. Remember, this was different from the position my body was most comfortable. When I got onto the bed, my desire to push disappeared. Gone! Just like that. My husband encouraged me to get back on the birthing ball, where my body was most comfortable. Immediately, when I sat down on the ball again, I had another contraction and desire to push.
I was hesitant to push while on the birthing ball or standing. Midwife Laura reassured me that she would move the birthing ball when the head emerged and catch my baby. On one of my next pushes, my water bust all over the birthing ball. It was quite exciting! The nurses cleaned it up so fast, I never saw anything. Another tip-- keep focused on your body, not the world around you. Things around you can wait, or someone else can attend to them.
Out came our sweet, little Declan
Another few pushes later, while I was standing and gripping my husband’s hands tightly, one of the nurses or midwife pulled the birthing ball out from under me. I pushed couple more times, and out came our sweet, little Declan. Our 9 lbs 8 oz baby was born at 10:13 am. I specifically remember Midwife Laura handing Declan to me from between my legs and saying, “grab your baby, Mama.” Andrew and I were in awe. It was one of the happiest, most joy filled moments of my life. My dream came true—a natural, beautiful birth. And I didn’t even half to have stitches, ladies. I’ll be honest, prior to this experience, I would not have thought such a beautiful birth could happen in a hospital. Let me tell you, a beautiful birth can happen anywhere. You and your baby make it beautiful.
My advice for any soon-to-be parents: (1) Listen to your body—don’t feel like you have to labor or birth in any certain position. Listen to what your body tells you to do. (2) Work WITH your contractions NOT against them. If you feel discomfort, work with that discomfort. Let that discomfort help you find a good position to be in to help your hips widen better. (3) Visualize your hips widening during every contraction— visualize that sweet baby’s head moving down pushing your hips out wider and wider. Visualization was key for me.
To conclude, my body was “at risk” toward the end of my pregnancy, so a hospital birth was necessary. Even though this was not my plan or my dream location of birth, I had the birth of my dreams—it was relatively quick (6 hours); I had my husband by my side for support, and he was welcomed and valued by my midwife and the nurses; I had a wonderful birthing center midwife to support me and catch my baby; I gave birth without any pain medication or assisted delivery measures; and I didn’t need any perineal stitches. I also got to have that beautiful golden hour—the hour of skin to skin time with my sweet, baby Declan. For anyone who has a higher risk pregnancy, you can make a hospital birth beautiful. It might not be my exact story or it might be similar, but either way, your story is what matters. You have the strength within you to birth your baby