An en caul birth is where a baby is born still in its amniotic sac. The bag of waters does not break and the baby is in a water balloon like clear sac at birth. This is very rare and is said to occur only in 1 out of 80,000 births. Legend says that babies born in the caul are said to be clairvoyant and possess supernatural abilities…
When I was pregnant with my third baby, my first girl, I knew I wanted a natural childbirth again. We considered a home birth, but with our insurance at the time, a hospital birth would be fully covered and a homebirth was not covered at all. Thankfully, the wonderful hospital based birth center where we gave birth to our second son was covered, so we chose to return there, even though it was almost an hours drive from our house. (Read my second birth story here. Or my first, where nothing went as planned, here.)
Four days before my due date, I knew that something was starting. I was supposed to teach that day, but I asked my husband (who I was co-teaching with at the time) to take over for me. Nothing was really happening. I’d had a bunch of Braxton Hicks and early labor contractions off and on for over a week, but nothing stuck. That morning, however, I just had a feeling.
We were invited to go swimming at a friend’s house that day, which sounded like fun. It was early May, but it was heating up and I was looking forward to a swim. So the boys and I headed over that afternoon and swam in the frigid water. I decided to be brave and swim into the deep end and tread water for a bit – brrrr it was cold! But the activity got my contractions started. Just easy early labor contractions like I had been having on and off for quite a while, but I thought they just might stick this time.
We drove home and my contractions continued. They were not painful, yet, and they came every 10-15 minutes. I went to bed that night wondering if they would stop or if they would progress.
I woke up about 3 am to painful contractions. I couldn’t just lie in bed any longer, although I tried and dozed off between each one since they were only coming 3 or 4 times an hour. By morning, they had picked up considerably and were coming every 5 minutes or so, so we decided to make the hour long trek to the hospital before driving in the car was too uncomfortable.
By 10 am, we made it to the hospital, which was very crowded. Every room was full, except one basic delivery room without a birthing tub. As soon as we walked inside, my labor stopped. (This has certainly been a pattern for me. My labor always stops when I reach the hospital…) The midwife who had just come on duty was one of the three in the large midwife group that I actually knew, so I was happy about that. Simone checked me and they monitored me for 20 minutes, but I was only dilated to 3 cm at this point, and my labor had stopped. So, she suggested I go back home, or walk around town, get some breakfast, etc. to see if things would start up again.
I was devastated and embarrassed. I wanted to have this baby, not go back home. In hinds sight, I am so glad I was not admitted at that time. Not being at the hospital helped my labor progress much faster than I think it would have if I was there, stuck in that tiny L&D room.
My husband and I decided to go out to brunch and see how things went from there. As soon as we left the hospital, my labor started again, although just gradually. I had a number of good contractions in the restaurant while enjoying my big plate of biscuits and gravy and fresh squeezed orange juice. So afterwards, we decided to walk around town and down to the local university’s campus arboretum. We were very familiar with this campus because we had graduated from there.
Walking through the familiar plants in the arboretum was very peaceful and my contractions got much more serious. They were all over the place time-wise, though. Sometimes they would be 15 minutes between them, sometimes there would be 3 minutes. After a couple hours of walking, we made it back to our car and discussed the next steps.
I wanted to return to the hospital, but I was afraid they would just turn me away again. My husband wanted to return home. He was convinced I was still in early labor and we still had a long time before our baby would arrive. So, against my better judgement, we drove the hour long drive back home.
About half way there, my irregular contractions started to become very regular. They came every 5 minutes, then every 4, and eventually every 3 minutes by the time we arrived home. And they were starting to get to the point where I had to really concentrate to get through them.
The boys (ages 4 and almost 6) were excited that we were home already, they were at home with my mother-in-law, and they wanted to meet the baby. I felt terrible telling them that she wasn’t here yet. And to make things more complicated, my mother-in-law had some friends visiting who happened to be driving by and had stopped in to visit. I wasn’t exactly the best hostess as I said a quick hello and then went back to hide in the bedroom.
My husband had a field trip planned with his students the following day and was debating whether or not he should postpone it. He was talking on the phone with his boss as he walked into the bedroom and I heard him say, “yes, false alarm. She’s still in early labor, so it could be days still.” And he did not cancel the trip for the following morning. At that point, with intense contractions coming every 3 or 4 minutes, I lost it!
“I am NOT in early labor!” I snapped at him. My poor husband gave me a sympathetic look and left the room to finish the conversation.
Our guests (or my mother-in-law’s guests) left, so I came out of the room and decided to try to watch a movie with the boys. We put on Despicable Me II since I had not seen it yet and thought it might be a good distraction. I still have not seen that movie. LOL!
I moved around the house, sitting on my yoga ball, trying some different yoga positions, leaning against the kitchen counter. Finally, I told my husband – “I really think we need to go back to the hospital.”
My mother-in-law agreed, so we loaded back into the car, after being home for about 90 minutes, and returned to the hospital. I had no idea how far along I was, but I suspected I must be near transition. I started to time my contractions using my phone as we made our way back. We called the midwife and let them know we were coming back and she assured me that there would be a tub room waiting when we arrived.
My contractions were coming every 3 minutes, then every 2 minutes, and eventually I would only have 30 seconds to a minute between each. I concentrated on the air vent in front of me and wished that I had my scripture cards from my birth bag to meditate on. Since I didn’t have those, I just said the name of Jesus, over and over, mostly in my head, as I breathed through each contraction. It was painful, yet it wasn’t. I seemed to transport out of myself when I focused on His name. There IS power in His name.
My husband had finally decided that I must actually be in labor and was starting to get worried that we might actually have this little one in the car! When traffic slowed (it was after 5 pm at this point) he seriously considered driving in the emergency lane, but thankfully it only slowed for a minute and then picked back up again.
We reached the hospital birth center and I attempted to make it to the door, but with breaks between contractions only lasting 30 or 45 seconds, I didn’t make it to the door without having to lean on my husband and breath through another one. They knew who I was at the check in desk and led me into my room. All was peaceful and calm, unlike when we had been there that morning. I was the only mother in labor.
They hooked me up to the monitors for my mandatory 20 minutes of monitoring at check in. It was torture to try to lie still while they put the two monitors on my stomach and started the test. My husband started a calming CD and I tried to breath through each contraction, but was distracted by having to stay in one position for so long. It was the only time during this labor that I felt was unbearable – I had finally learned how to NOT focus on the pain, but being strapped to a machine was more than I could take.
The nurse started to fill up the birthing tub since she could tell I would want it as soon as I finished my test.
The nurse we had was wonderful. Later, we found out that she was a Christian and had been praying over the entire delivery. Since she had no other patients to attend to, she stayed with us and rubbed my back. At the end of 20 minutes, our midwife came in (she had been taking a dinner break). But before she could even check me, my contractions changed. I felt the urge to push.
At first I didn’t say anything and just pushed through the first one – it felt so good. Then I decided I better say something, so I told the midwife. She went to check my dilation, thought better of it (this was my third), and told me that if I wanted to have this baby in the water, I had better get in the tub! ( I was only checked at 3 cm dilated that morning.)
The warm water felt so good and eased the pain significantly. I tried pushing in a squatting position and then on all fours, but wasn’t getting too far. My midwife suggested I turn over and push from a sitting position with my legs bent up. That worked and my baby girl started to crown.
The CD we were listening to stopped at that point and my thoughtful husband asked if I wanted him to restart it or put in something different. “No! Get the camera!” I told him instead.
At this point, my water still had not broken, so the bag of waters ballooned out as I was pushing her head out. As she slipped back before the next contraction, the bag of waters stayed out, holding me open so that she came out easily on the next push, still in her bag of waters.
The midwife swept her out of the water and quickly broke her bag and released her head. She was perfect and covered in vernix like frosting as she was placed on my chest. It was so quick that we don’t have any pictures of her “en caul” and my memory of the event is blurry as I was kind of busy at that time…
We were only in the hospital about 45 minutes before our precious little Addamay was born. She was perfect, just like her brothers – her blue eyes, button nose, and round head had us captivated from the start. And she was not “too big” as a late ultrasound predicted she would be. She was 8 lbs 6 ozs, just under the 8.5 lbs that our midwife had predicted using just her hands.
She latched on immediately and nursed in the tub and then on the bed. I had a severe tear with her, which took some time to sew up. However, I also healed quicker and had a better recovery with her than with the boys, so I can’t complain.
We spent the night at the hospital and chose her name in the morning. We are terrible about picking out names, so we had a short list to choose from. Addamay means Noble Child of Light and is very unusual, but is the combination of two very familiar names.
And just like our previous births, we requested early check out from the hospital. We were home by late morning the following day.
Thankfully, Addamay settled right into home life and slept beautifully among the familiar loud sounds of her brothers playing. She was restless and unhappy at the hospital, but as soon as we were home, she was as happy as could be.