Rachel Wilber’s Journey to Becoming Pregnant & Giving Birth
Rachel Wilber is a criminal defense attorney, alongside her husband of four years, in private practice. Three years ago she quit her job as a public defender to pursue health and wellness, in part because she was having difficulty conceiving. Intuitively, she knew that stress was likely contributing to her infertility, and that she needed to create balance in her life if becoming a mother was to become a reality. After three years of infertility struggles (including surgery, procedures, four rounds of IUI, and three rounds of IVF) Rachel finally became pregnant with her daughter.
She had a healthy and complication-free pregnancy, which slowly re-instilled the confidence she had in her body. Despite being advised against giving birth outside the hospital due to a scar on her uterus, she chose a birth-center at 32 weeks pregnant. After years of medical interventions to achieve pregnancy, her natural water-birth was the empowering, gentle, and healing experience she had hoped for. You can read more about Rachel’s infertility journey and her life as a mom to her daughter and two Great Danes at www.twodanesandababy.com or on Instagram @rachwilber.
Rachel shared a more in depth summary of her experiences, which I’ve included below!
Rachel and her husband married in 2013 when she was 35 years old, so they wasted no time trying to conceive, literally starting on their wedding night! Six months later, Rachel saw her regular OBGYN to get the regular tests done to make sure everything looked okay since they had no luck up to that point. The tests all came back fine and the doctor simply told her to keep trying and that at 35, it could take a while.
Another six months passed with no success, and Rachel knew they needed more help. Up to that point, she had been tracking her ovulation, having sex on the right days, eating healthy, exercising, and generally doing everything she could think of to prepare herself for pregnancy. But at 36, and working an extremely high-stress job, Rachel knew she would regret it if she didn’t take drastic measures to lower her stress levels to allow her body to become pregnant.
So, in January 2014, she gave notice at her job (shocking her boss, colleagues, and husband), and enrolled in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to become a Health Coach. During 2014, Rachel went through four medicated rounds of IUI and did acupuncture; she also saw a chiropractor, a therapist, a shaman, changed her diet, and generally tried anything and everything to conceive. But she never saw a positive pregnancy test. At the end of the year, Rachel and her husband knew it was time to try IVF after an HSG revealed that her left tube was blocked and her right ovary was missing due to a prior surgery in 2011 to remove a tumor.
They did their first round of IVF in February 2015, which resulted in only 5 eggs: all immature. The RE told them that all eggs being immature was rare (about 4 cases out of 1,000), and that alongside her other issues, Rachel had a less than 1% chance of success if they did another round with her own eggs. Donor eggs would provide a much more promising 60% likelihood of success, but it was a huge leap to make emotionally and financially and Rachel felt devastated by the news. She took the rest of 2015 off from trying to conceive, of course still holding out hope for a natural miracle, and slowly came to terms with the idea of using donor eggs. By the end of that year, Rachel and Ryan had decided that they could live without the genetic connection between Rachel and a baby, as long as Rachel still got to experience pregnancy and birth; so, they made the decision to choose an egg donor.
Choosing a donor is a whole story in-and-of-itself! But to make a long story short, the stars seemed to align, and when Rachel and Ryan met their donor at the agency, they fell in love with her and everything felt right. They did their first fresh cycle alongside the donor and that attempt failed; however, they succeeded in creating enough embryos to freeze for future tries, and on the second round Rachel became pregnant!
Pregnancy and Birth Story
Rachel’s pregnancy was strong and healthy from the very start, which was such a relief after so much disappointment! The anxiety of being pregnant after so much failure was still there, but with each successful doctor’s visit it started to fade away. In 2011, prior to starting fertility treatments, Rachel had undergone a myomectomy (surgery to remove a fibroid from her uterus) which was similar to a c-section. Her right ovary was also removed at that time. After that surgery, she was told that when she became pregnant she would have to have a scheduled C-section. At the time, she didn’t care and was fine with that idea. And while going through infertility, she was so focused on just achieving a healthy pregnancy that the type of birth she would have was the furthest thing from her mind. She never allowed herself to think that maybe she would have a choice in the matter. But the further along she got in her pregnancy, the more she realized she felt grief over the idea of losing the opportunity to give birth vaginally and to go into labor spontaneously. She wanted to share that experience with her husband, and something about the scheduled C-section just started to feel wrong. She started doing her homework (watching the Business of Being Born, reading Ina May Gaskin’s books) and decided she would ask her doctor about the possibility of what would essentially be considered a VBAC.
Rachel’s doctor looked at her chart and approved her to attempt a VBAC, although she cautioned her not to do a home birth and that she’d have to be monitored. Rachel was just thrilled to be approved so she didn’t argue! It spurred her on to do more research about VBACs and what would be the best way to try and avoid a C-section. After more reading, taking a Hypnobirthing class, and listening to lots of episodes of the Birth Hour, she was convinced that the best way to avoid ending up in a C-section was to avoid any and all interventions if possible.
At the start of her third trimester Rachel calculated her out-of-pocket estimate for the birth at the hospital and was shocked at the cost. She realized that it was only a fraction more expensive to choose a birth center, which opened her mind to that option. Even though it scared her, she consulted the midwives there and talked to her doctor about it; and, at 32 weeks pregnant she switched her care over to the birth center. The prenatal visits were night and day from her visits to her doctor! She immediately felt surrounded by love and that the midwives trusted her body to give birth. Instead of instilling fear in her about what could go wrong, the midwives focused her on what was going RIGHT with her body, and assured her that they were prepared should she need to transfer to the hospital which was only five minutes away. Rachel and Ryan took a birthing class at the birth center that was encouraging and useful. They also hired a doula for support.
When Rachel reached 39 weeks, she was feeling ready to have the baby and was concerned about doing everything possible to come as close to 40 weeks as possible. That week she saw an acupuncturist who specialized in pregnancy, and immediately after the appointment she lost her mucus plug. The next day at home, while on the birth ball, she started leaking amniotic fluid and was so excited, sure she would go into labor that night! She called the midwives and everyone was on alert, but all that happened that night was mild cramping. The next day she went to the acupuncturist again, but still nothing happened. That night, she and Ryan checked into a hotel close to the birth center (they lived 30 minutes away and wanted to be close by). She rubbed clary sage on her belly, did lots of squats and lunges, and still nothing happened. By the next day, she agreed with the midwife to check into the birth center to do a natural induction. At noon that Saturday, they checked in. Rachel’s water had been broken for 44 hours at that point and the midwife wanted to try and get things moving. She started Rachel on the breast pump and on cottonwood bark for a few hours. When that hadn’t gotten things going by 4pm, they decided to induce with castor oil. She had Rachel take a dose, walk for 45 minutes, take another dose, do more breast pumping… and by 8:30 pm, Rachel FINALLY felt her first REAL contractions. They stayed 4-5 minutes apart for about an hour: just enough time to call the doula, her cousin, and her birth photographer. By 9:30 pm, Rachel’s labor was full-on and extremely intense with no breaks between contractions,and it stayed that way until 12:45 am when she was fully dilated and ready to push. The tub was the only place she felt comfortable, and she spent almost her entire labor in the water. When it was time to push she got out briefly but almost immediately got back in ~ it was the only place that felt remotely comfortable.
Ryan got in the tub with Rachel and she pushed for two hours with Ryan behind her. After the first hour Rachel remembers feeling like she might die and that she was making no progress. She considered asking to go to the hospital or giving up, but remembered all the stories she had listened to and how the women had pushed through the pain and gotten their babies out. She embraced the pain, and decided that the sooner she pushed through it, the sooner it would be over. That thought somehow gave her the strength to push into the pain and use it as a guide. From that point forward, every push brought the baby closer to being born, and at 2:47 am Isla Grace came out and was placed right on Rachel’s chest. She started crying almost immediately and they all laughed because she sounded like a little goat!
After the birth, Rachel got out of the water and tried to birth the placenta, but it was soon obvious that there was a problem. The midwife gave her a shot of Pitocin, but nothing happened. After about 20 minutes the midwife gently pulled the cord to try and loosen the placenta, and the cord broke off. She leaned over Rachel and said to her, “I’m so sorry but you have to face your biggest fear today ~ I have to go in and get the placenta.” (At her last prenatal appointment, the midwife asked Rachel what her biggest fear was, and she told her it was a retained placenta. Somehow she knew it was going to happen to her, and it turns out she was right.) Luckily there was at least nitrous oxide available to help Rachel cope as the midwife went in and retrieved the placenta with her hand. The pain and fear Rachel felt during that procedure were intense and she remembers screaming into the mask while Ryan laid next to her on the bed holding Isla. Five minutes later, however, it was over and she wasn’t bleeding too badly. All she remembers feeling at that moment is relief that it was over and that she didn’t have to go to the hospital.
The midwives helped get Rachel and Isla all cleaned up and snuggled into bed, and helped Isla nurse for the first time. They spoon-fed Rachel yogurt and made her breakfast. The care they provided was loving and amazing! Rachel didn’t tear, and by 10:30 a.m. they were headed home as a family.
After the birth, recovery was fast and easy, which Rachel credits to her choice to give birth naturally and to the care she received from her midwives and her doula.