Unexpected Footling Breech Home Birth

This is my longest birth story to tell, despite being my fastest birth experience. The journey to meeting our sweet girl has been one filled with uncertainty. It has also served as a constant reminder to rely on the One who is omniscient. My background as a doula and birth photographer coupled with my deep passion for the topics of pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum could have made it easy to fall back on my own understanding. Yet, that wasn’t where I found myself time and time again. This pregnancy and unexpected footling breech home birth have shaken me and been so different from my three boys, the moment of birth itself being the most shocking of all.

We have been blessed with three incredible boys, all with unique birth stories themselves. By the time we were ready to try for another baby, I had my heart set on a baby girl. Our boy’s have birthdays in September, November, and December. I had it all planned out, we’d have an October baby next and it will all be perfect. They will all have fall birthdays, and it would fit into my plans just right.

While Busy Making Plans

Timing it as precisely as we could, we tried to have an October baby. Very faint positive pregnancy tests wouldn’t go on to darken as those early days went by. Eventually they would fade completely and I would begin bleeding. Another very early miscarriage. We experienced this kind of loss between the births of our first two boys, and this was very similar. I held tightly to the slightest bit of hope that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t showing strongly on tests for some reason. Perhaps an ultrasound might reveal all was well after all. I had been having symptoms still and felt confused as to why that might be. We left that ultrasound appointment with me in tears hanging onto the understanding that it was indeed a loss.

A few weeks later we’d be in that same ultrasound office. We would see a viable pregnancy. We must have conceived sometime in the two weeks following the miscarriage. Little did I know how this pregnancy would push me to my limits physically and emotionally. Between the worst morning sickness I had ever experienced, a stomach bug, unexplained bleeding, and possible placenta previa, the first trimester was all encompassing. We had also moved into our new home just a short week before morning sickness set in. That began the long months of my husband (Craig) bearing the weight of all of the heavy lifting that comes with moving into a new to us home on three acres. This is when I started repeating, “We’re not doing this again.” This would be our last baby.

taken by Brittany Grubbs

A Tough Pregnancy

The second trimester came with the sweetness that is feeling a baby move. Quite the mover she was (and still is). We found out the possible placenta previa had corrected itself and wouldn’t be an issue. Most special of all, we found out what my suspicion suspected, we were having a girl. This trimester also came with excruciating pubic pain which I would soon realize was likely pubic symphasis diastasis. I must have had it with my last full term pregnancy as well, but it was much worse this time. It became extra difficult to walk, sit or stand too much, roll over in bed, and to get in and out of the car. The second trimester flew by quite quickly, and before I could catch my breath we reached 28 weeks.

The third trimester was mostly quiet, until my curiosity struck. I had an appointment around 35 weeks, and I asked my midwife what part of baby I was feeling up high in my belly. Much to my surprise, she said something like, “That’s her head, she seems to be breech!” She went on to say that she could still easily flip head down still. She normally wouldn’t check baby’s position at this point. Okay, don’t worry about it. I wasn’t too concerned with this discovery, and kept stating, “If she’s breech, we’ll still deliver at home. I don’t want to deliver her breech, but I will if that’s what it comes down to.”

taken by Stephanie Shirley Photography

Trying to Turn My Breech Baby

At 36 weeks, her little head was still up and not down where it “should” be. Up until now, none of my babies have ever given me trouble with their position. They all came into the world in the most optimal position, not even a sunny-side-up/posterior baby. This one seem determined to make her own way into the world. I began the Spinning Babies 6-day protocol, thinking surely she would flip head down. It worked so well for so many other women, some I know personally, some past clients of mine that I had encouraged to use their methods.

I didn’t know what kind of physical and mental work I was getting into, despite having encouraged countless women to use their program. It’s hard work, let’s just say that. It was hard on my body and mental state, as well as Craig and others who stepped in to help me with the exercises when he couldn’t.

taken by Stephanie Shirley Photography

A Friend in a Time of Need

Sometime in the middle of the protocol, I remembered my midwife from out of state from a previous birth had shared with me her hundreds of photos of breech births she had supported over her 40 years as a midwife. I called her to share with her the situation I was in. She shared with me how she’s supported 96 breech births in her career, incredible. I would go on to have multiple long conversations with her that helped to better equip me for delivering breech. “We’re not playing checkers anymore, this is chess,” was one of the things that stuck with me.

I contemplated what it would look like to fly her out here to have more experienced support for the birth. But, I would later realize that would just be a bandaid for a situation that was requiring absolute trust. I shard with her how I wouldn’t be worried about a thing if she were here, and how I trust her with my life. She reminded me of truth in response to that with, “Just because I am there doesn’t mean everything will be fine, either. That is all ultimately in God’s hands.”

taken by Stephanie Shirley Photography

Attempted ECV

As the next weeks went by, it became very clear how blessed I was to have hired the midwife for this birth that I had. She was willing and eager to support her delivery at home, despite not having near as much breech experience as someone like my out of state midwife. She was on board with anything I decided to do, even if that meant scheduling a cesarean and going the hospital route. The more I researched breech, the more I realized how rare it can be to find an out of hospital midwife that would support a breech delivery. It still wasn’t evident to me just how much grace has been weaved into this story. It wouldn’t be until she was here.

The day after I finished the six days of Spinning Babies, we scheduled an ECV (external cephalic version). Our hope was to flip her into the head down position by moving her body from outside of my belly. I was 37 weeks by now, the optimal time to try this method. It was especially helpful to have just finished the Spinning Babies protocol.

The ultrasound tech confirmed she was in the frank breech position, the most straightforward way to deliver. My fluid levels were great. She had a single nuchal cord around her neck. My placenta was where it needed to be to do the ECV with the most success. We got halfway through the version, and I couldn’t proceed. She was halfway flipped, according to my midwife, but the discomfort and overwhelming feelings of it not seeming right took over. So, we stopped it. My midwife was very encouraged by how easily she moved. She didn’t seem disappointed by this not being a successful flip.

taken by Stephanie Shirley Photography

What Comes Next

It was now time to really consider all of the birthing options and decide how to proceed with our birth plans. Do we continue to plan to have her at home and risk a possible emergency transfer? Should we consult with a breech supportive OB at the hospital and deliver there with him? Do we schedule a gentle cesarean with the OB that my midwife works closely with?

No matter what we chose, the risks involved in any of the options could result in the outcome of my worst fears: her dying. My second biggest fear was me dying. I can’t quite explain how overwhelming the reality of knowing exactly how I would encourage another woman in this situation compared to what it’s like to actually being in this situation. What if I make the wrong choice and something happens to her? It will have been my decision that caused that.

taken by Stephanie Shirley Photography

Where My Help Comes From

The Lord was repeatedly bringing me to the end of myself, holding me in the sweet space of not leaning on my own understanding. Instead, He gently nudged and reminded me through others that He knows exactly how it will all go. He has me and her both. Even if it all went according to my deepest fears, He would still be good. It was in these broken moments, crying across from and on friend’s shoulders, breaking down to worship music in the car by myself, I was reminded of truth. I could easily lean on my own understanding with my wealth of knowledge surrounding this topic. However, in the processing I was recognizing that I can’t and I certainly do not “got this.” I cannot do this in my own strength.

“Breech is a variation of normal,” I’ve stated. All of the worldly encouragement isn’t where I was finding my peace or rest. Leaning on the goodness of God and how He loves His people is what brought me peace. Even if I had to keep being reminded of it through the many tears that continued to shed over those weeks.

taken by Stephanie Shirley Photography

A Decision Made

We made the decision to stick with our home birth plans, come what may. My midwife remained optimistic and encouraged me that another experienced in breech birth midwife was excited to come and support me as well when the time came. I watched all of the breech home birth videos I could while remaining in contact with my out of state midwife. I experienced many emotions over those weeks as I learned to loosen my grip on the illusion of control I tend to cling to.

taken by Stephanie Shirley Photography

A Not Normal Sunday Morning

We were headed to church one Sunday, the day after I reached 38 weeks, and I thought to myself, “I don’t really want to go. I don’t want to have the ‘Still pregnant? Still breech?’ conversations. I just want to get in and out quickly and not linger and talk like I normally do.” I never verbalized this to Craig, but it was what I planned to do. We sit in almost the exact same place each week, often with another couple or friend, but not usually.

This particular morning they happened to be recognizing a handful of couples on stage for something. Those couples happened to all be ones that have walked closely with us over the years we’ve called our church home. I was literally surrounded by women and sisters that have loved me through much. One asked me, “You ok?” during the final worship song and the tears just started flowing with my feeble, “No.” The Lord surrounded me with love and I just grieved and mourned the reality of the situation and how scared I had been feeling. The fear was all engulfing, that she might not come out of this alive and it would have been my decision.

I kept finding myself stating, “This would be so much easier if I didn’t carry the knowledge and experience on this topic that I have. I could easily just schedule a cesarean and be done with it. No stressing, just doing what almost everyone else does in this situation. But, I can’t do that. I know too much for this to be a simple decision.”

taken by Stephanie Shirley Photography

A Hopeful Change in Position

On Thanksgiving day, I was 38 weeks and 5 days pregnant. She still hadn’t flipped head down. We had finished up our big meal, and it was dark outside. I was on the couch reading a book about Squanto and the first Thanksgiving to the boys when I felt the strangest and gentlest little PLOP! in my belly. I stopped reading, and proclaimed, “I think she just flipped!” I got up, and felt physically different and much more comfortable. I even slept better than night, getting up only every 2-3 hours instead of the regular hourly.

We had an appointment scheduled already for the next morning where my midwife confirmed that she was 95% sure she did indeed flip head down. The only reason she wasn’t 100% sure was because baby could have just tucked her head differently. The heart tone location seemed in line with a head down baby. It was extremely unlikely that she would flip back to breech position now.

I was told repeatedly after this change that I seemed so much more at ease both physically and emotionally. Feeling more at peace, and certainly relieved to know she was head down, I could have the peaceful water birth at home I was planning for months.

taken by Stephanie Shirley Photography

The Very End of Pregnancy

Sometime in the 39th week of pregnancy I began to get increasingly uncomfortable again. I began having more contractions than I had the previous weeks. I also began hoping we were very close to meeting her, and that maybe she’d come when my last baby did at 39 weeks and 4 days. That day came and went, and the contractions were still mild and sporadic.

On Wednesday, November 30th the contractions were slightly less mild, but few and far in between. I would have contractions if I were laying on my right side. But, they’d stop if I laid on my left side, an interesting trend. On Friday, December 2nd I was one day short of 40 weeks. I woke up that morning at 7am with contractions while laying on my left side, “Interesting,” I thought. Those contractions went on until midnight that night and be anywhere from 6-30 minutes apart. Most of them were in the 9-15 minute apart range.

I got excited about the idea of her being born on 12-2-22. Sadly the day ended with me disappointed that wasn’t to be. I had another appointment that day, and nothing indicated that she wasn’t head down. My midwife asked where I was feeling hiccups. I told her I had been waiting for her to have some and she still hadn’t since she flipped!

taken by Stephanie Shirley Photography

40 Weeks Pregnant

The next day, Saturday, I was 40 weeks. That day came with radio silence in terms of contractions. My body seemed to have had enough of whatever was happening on Friday. I was becoming increasingly exhausted and irritable. I did finally feel some hiccups that day, though! More confirmation, hiccups low where they would be with a head down baby, whew.

I didn’t feel up for church that Sunday, I was emotionally discouraged and physically tuckered out. I still wasn’t having any contractions until about 1:00pm when some started up again. Timing those until about 4:30pm, they were 7-16 minutes apart and then slowed to a stop through the evening. I began wondering if I should ask someone to take our boys for a bit. I thought maybe the chaos of three boys was stalling everything. Craig mentioned that would probably stress me more than them being home, he was right.

taken by Stephanie Shirley Photography

Time to Have a Baby

I fell asleep around 11pm that evening. I woke up around 1:30am to some kind of sensation of fluid coming out of me. Quickly getting out of bed, I made my way to the bathroom. My pajama shorts were soaked and I had fluid down to both of my feet. I suspected my water must have broken. In all of my other births, this has only happened during pushing. It was unsettling to have happened randomly in the middle of the night.

I had learned through conversations with my out of state midwife that most breech births begin with water breaking. This knowledge didn’t make me think she was breech in this moment, at all. I was still under the impression that she was head down and my water just happened to break first this time. I called my midwife for reassurance that what was happening was okay. She encouraged me to put on a pad as I would likely keep leaking and to call her if I needed her.

taken by Stephanie Shirley Photography

Things Picking Up Quickly

I was very shaky, but not having any contractions yet. I decided to use the doppler we were borrowing from our midwife to check her heart rate for peace of mind. My water breaking first was so unusual for me. It took us a few minutes of trying to find it, but she was just fine in the 140’s. Moderate contractions began to start, and I didn’t feel like getting back into bed. I called my midwife and birth photographer around 2:30am asking them to come. I am prone to having fast labors, and suspected my water being broken might be an indicator of another fast one.

Craig began getting the birth tub ready and started filling it up with warm water. As contractions continued, I stayed upright between the bathroom and our bedroom. I turned on the playlist I created when I still thought she was breech. I filled this playlist with very specific worship music that would redirect me to Truth and bring calmness in moments of fear and stress should they come. The Frankincense candle I was saving from a special event in the recent months was finally getting lit.

taken by Stephanie Shirley Photography

Timing Contractions

The contractions I timed between 1:48-3:30am were as follows:
1:48am | 69 seconds long
1:56am | 54 seconds long | 8 minutes apart
2:04am | 52 seconds long | 8 minutes apart
2:14am | 70 seconds long | 10 minutes apart
2:21am | 53 seconds long | 6 minutes apart
2:28am | 59 seconds long | 8 minutes apart
2:36am | 69 seconds long | 8 minutes apart
2:43am | 63 seconds long | 7 minutes apart
2:50am | 61 seconds long | 7 minutes apart
2:56am | 78 seconds long | 6 minutes apart
3:01am | 38 seconds long | 4 minutes apart (midwife arrives)
3:04am | 55 seconds long | 4 minutes apart (birth photographer arrives)
3:17am | 54 seconds long | 13 minutes apart
3:23am | 45 seconds long | 6 minutes apart
3:30am | 121 seconds long | 7 minutes apart

taken by Stephanie Shirley Photography

The Arrival of My Birth Team

My midwife arrived around 3:00am. I ended up hesitatingly agreeing to a cervical check to see where we were at and so she had a better idea of when to ask a second midwife to come. My water being broken already made it a little different from previous births. I didn’t have a single cervical check with my last pregnancy or birth, that’s how much I dislike them.

I was checked, and that resulted in the statement of, “I think we have some work to do,” being said. My cervix and baby were both still very high, and she couldn’t determine my dilation. I continued working through contractions but mentally struggled that I wasn’t more progressed than that. We might be at this a while.

We had a quick conversation about who might attend my midwife to this birth. The two midwives (one being the experienced in breech midwife) I wanted to be there were not able to come. We agreed that having the student midwife come instead should be just fine. She was an experienced labor and delivery nurse, so I was fine with that. Had I known what would happen shortly after, I would have been begging for the midwife experienced in breech to come to have that experience present.

taken by Stephanie Shirley Photography

Contractions Intensify

The last two or three contractions that I timed were while I was laying on my side in bed. The intensity of the contractions were far greater while I was laying down resting verses being up. My midwife let me know she didn’t need me to time them anymore, so I stopped then. The student midwife arrived soon after this. Something about not having something stable to place my hands on in bed made it very difficult to cope with the more intense contractions.

As things continued to intensify, I got up again and began verbalizing concern over when the boys should be woken up. The older two were present for their little brother’s birth. I didn’t want any of them to miss their sister’s! I began feeling (and sounding) slightly pushy during contractions, but it didn’t feel like what I had felt before. She was moving a lot in between contractions and I would feel the movement very low. I began to suspect that she had a hand up by her head and they would likely come out together when I did begin to push. Being in the water began sounding very nice. I climbed into the birth tub while Craig went to wake up the boys. Floating in the water was a slight relief to the intensity of the contractions.

taken by Stephanie Shirley Photography

Either a Hand or a Foot

Our boys climbed into our bed with their water bottles and a snack around 4:30am. After having a few more contractions in the water and still sounding pushy, I reluctantly asked to be checked again. My midwife quickly checked me in the water while I tried my best not to move away from the pain. She removed her hand and promptly but calmly said to me, “Nicole, I either feel a hand or a foot and I need you to get out so I can see which it is.” At this moment, I still suspected it was her hand by her head. Out of the nice water we go and back to the bed where I don’t want to be.

She proceeded to check me when I was ready, and confirmed a foot was there to greet her. I very quickly came to terms with the reality that we are doing this breech after all, and right now. She informed us that one foot was down, but the other leg was still up. She needed to reach inside to help it come down. Craig was behind me supporting my upper body at this point. The boys all watched curiously on the other side of the bed. She successfully assists the other leg down despite me doing everything to fight against that pain. Then I was encouraged to push.

taken by Stephanie Shirley Photography

Pushing Through the Pain

I most definitely screamed and yelled through this pushing process. I did not enjoy laying on my back for this one bit. Within minutes her body was coming out and doing what it needed to do. The words my out of state midwife told me were replaying in my mind, “When it’s time to push you don’t wait for a contraction you just push her the hell out.” Her head quickly followed after her body rotated as expected and I felt every bit of it. Her head coming last was a big shift in pain as she made her way into the world. Within 2 minutes of her body being born, so was her head. She was laid on my belly at 5:22am.

taken by Stephanie Shirley Photography

Baby in Need of Gentle Help

I had known from researching so much about breech birth to expect a baby born that way to be a bit stunned when they come out. She wasn’t responsive when she was laid on me, but I didn’t feel panic. I began to rub her and talk to her at the encouragement of those around me. “Come on baby,” was repeated while they began to help her along. My midwife performed mouth to mouth on her quickly and initially. Then she provided some oxygen she had on hand, all while baby stayed right on me. I didn’t know until later, but Craig stepped out of the room as this was all happening. He didn’t know to expect that from a breech birth. Between her and how much pain I had been in he needed a moment. Soon after she was pinking up and beginning to cry.

From there, everything was as normal as any birth I’d previously had. My bleeding was minimal and I didn’t tear for the first time in any of my births. I was in sheer disbelief of the miracle that had just occurred. The shock I would be in for the next five days was sinking in. I delivered her breech at home, and we were both okay.

taken by Stephanie Shirley Photography

A Miracle

Upon researching further in the days following days, I realized how miraculous this birth really was. Only 3-4% of babies present breech at delivery, and of those babies only 20-30% of them present the specific way she did. She came presenting single footling breech, the riskiest of breech presentations according to professionals. Most midwives who will support a breech birth out of the hospital setting would not support a footling breech. A frank breech (butt down) is the preferred and most straightforward breech presentation. This is because the butt coming first is most like a head coming down first, helping the cervix to dilate etc.

I learned so much about where my true strength comes from and what Scripture means when it says, “For when I am weak, then I am strong,” in 2 Corinthians. With my experience and passion over these topics, I could have easily leaned on my own strength and understanding. In yet, the Lord brought me to my knees time and time again. He used the miracle of birth to draw me closer to Him and to know His goodness. Her life, my life, are held firmly in the Lord’s hands. It is his grace and mercy to provide for us what he so freely does. How could I even question that He would do any different?

taken by Stephanie Shirley Photography

Only God

The grace I experienced spending those last days believing she was head down was exactly what I needed, and what only God could have ordained. It allowed me to be at ease. I don’t believe I would have been able to allow labor to progress peacefully at all if I believed she was still breech until the perfectly timed moment I became aware.

This sweet girl of ours is made of something as fierce as they come, and I’m so grateful for the immediate deep bonding we’ve experienced in the way she came into this world. I cannot wait to see the mighty ways the Lord continues to work in and through her precious life. What a special way to close the chapter of our lives that is having babies. To have a daughter, what a precious gift.

I don’t think I’ll move forward expressing to other women that breech is a variation of normal, I’m not sure I believe it is after walking through it the way I did. But I do believe this:

Breech is not part of God’s design,
except for when it is.

taken by Stephanie Shirley Photography

5 responses to “Unexpected Footling Breech Home Birth”

  1. Wow … beautiful Nic 💗. You are such an amazing example of motherhood!

  2. ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ I’m so sorry to hear of all the pregnancy discomfort, physical and emotional. What a sweet ending.

    1. Such a wild ride, for sure!

  3. Loved reading this, Nic! Welcome earthside, baby girl!

    1. Thank you, Nickie! ❤️

Leave a Reply