The 2022 Little Mermaid Trailer featuring Halle Bailey playing Ariel has received over 1 Million likes on YouTube, some heartwarming reactions from little girls, and so much excitement from millennials like me who grew up watching the original Little Mermaid animated Disney film. Because I’m a retired birth worker, in all of this Little Mermaid excitement I remembered that labor with my second child almost resulted in a mermaid birth. Here’s what happened.
by Shayla Brown
What is a Mermaid Birth?
A mermaid birth, also called an en caul birth happens when a baby is born still secured in the unbroken amniotic sac.
How Did My Almost Mermaid Birth Start?
If you follow my personal blog then you probably already know that I had my first home birth in February of 2015. Unlike my first home birth, which lasted 5 days, my almost mermaid homebirth started at about 11 am on a Friday, and was over at 2:50 am the following Saturday. Here are the highlights:
I predicted the day of my labor by mishearing my calculated due date; which was two days after the date I correctly predicted to be my actual due date. Labor began with me in the kitchen making breakfast and feeling the familiar pinch of onsetting labor cramps. “I think I’m in labor,” I told my husband who was standing next to me trying to pretend to remain calm. In true “doin’ too much” fashion I immediately rushed to run the one errand I was determined to run before I gave birth.
“I’ve gotta go get my painting,” I realized, celebrated, and declared all at the same time. I had met a young lady while I shopped in her family’s incense shop about a week earlier and she had been there painting an original portrait. I was so impressed with her work that I hired her on the spot and ran to my car to give her the picture I wanted present at my birth. The day before labor started she texted to say the painting was finally ready. I had to go and get it.
I left the kitchen to get dressed for my trip 25 minutes across the valley from Tempe to meet her at her family’s home in Phoenix. The traffic was terrible there and back and it took me over 2 hours to make the trip. On my way back home I called my midwife to tell her I was in labor.
“So do you think you can still make it to training tonight?” It was Friday and the training she referred to was the Health Connect One Community Doula training she hosted. It was my second doula training, and while I did believe there was more I could learn, I believed more in the opportunity for community the group provided. We usually met on Thursdays but this week shifted to Friday because my midwife had another Thursday obligation.
“Yeah,” I said nonchalantly. My first labor had hasted 5 days so in my mind this labor was only the beginning of an event that could have lasted just as long. I was cramping mildly but I figured I could handle sitting through training since the contractions weren’t that strong yet.
“Uuuhhh, no,” she objected. “We’re not doing that.” We talked for a bit more and decided that our gathering would resume and instead of what we would usually do as training tonight’s session would be more hands-on with my labor being the object of study. In exchange for sharing my experience with the group, I would get labor support which I didn’t have since my entire family lived back home in Mississippi.
I got back home, told my husband what our midwife and I had discussed and we spent the rest of the day preparing.
How Did My Almost Mermaid Birth Progress?
At the beginning of my almost mermaid birth, I celebrated with my birth team; the group of student doulas led by the student midwife attending me.
We ate food, exchanged laughter, exchanged gifts, and because we were a class of student doulas, everyone took turns practicing labor massages.
As labor progressed, these student doulas and their spouses helped my husband with the birth setup. They rearranged our furniture and filled the pool with water.
The student doula assigned as my primary birth assistant facilitated my experience according to my preferences, massaged me during labor, and took some beautiful pictures. I didn’t have to ask or request a single thing–she just did the things we talked about so I was able to focus on labor.
Another student doula and her husband had a son my age so they offered to keep our firstborn over the weekend while I finished laboring and ultimately it gave us time to adjust after our baby was born. Knowing my child was safe with people I felt I could trust was a weight lifted as I navigated the almost mermaid birth ahead. I was more sure of myself and of the birth process during this second labor so I retreated to the privacy of my bedroom to labor undisturbed on my own.
My midwife respected my process and did not interfere or pressure me during this time. Occasionally she would peep in to see how I was doing or if I need anything, and once when I shook from chills she covered me with a large dryer—warmed towel. She didn’t rush me, check my cervix, stand over me with worry–none of that. I didn’t have to fight for control over my own experience with my body.
“Can you go get Erick,” I requested the next time she asked what I needed?
“Sure,” she replied, and he walked in shortly after.
When he approached me I hugged him. I didn’t talk and he didn’t ask a bunch of questions he just held me and submitted his hands to where I moved them along my body. With my eyes closed, I concentrated hard on what I was doing. I rested on him between contractions and I breathed, moaned, and swayed my hips each time a new contraction washed over me. I turned to face the bed through the next few contractions and he pressed close behind me silently rubbing my back. My water hadn’t broken yet so as contractions intensified and got closer together, the pressure on the front and back sides of my pelvis became extremely uncomfortable. I pushed myself off the bed and turned; placing my right hip at its side; and faced its end. I grunted and positioned my husband’s hands: one on the front of my pelvis and the other on its back. I pushed his hands hard together and helped me to squeeze the two areas together until my amniotic sac popped and its fluid came rushing out on our bedroom floor. “I thought I had broken something,” he would laugh to me later, “because felt it pop.”
A powerful contraction immediately followed the gush of water and I dropped to my knees onto the floor. I’m not sure why my midwife emerged—I hadn’t called for her or screamed out in any way. Maybe I asked my husband to get her? Maybe the water and my disposition were his signal to be proactive and just go. I honestly can’t remember, but in a matter of minutes, she and the two student doulas present emerged from the front to observe and assist.
I pushed a few times through a grunt until my baby’s head finally eased out. Unlike my first baby who slid right out after his head, this baby stalled. “Good job pushing the head, Shayla,” my midwife encouraged, “but you need to keep pushing his shoulds out. They are a little stuck.” I remember being on all fours and looking through my legs at the light she was shining onto the baby coming out. She never turned on the overhead lights so the candles I had lit remained the main source of light. It was an effort to keep the lights low, keep me comfortable, and promote and support the flow of oxytocin so that labor could continually progress.
I took a deep breath, gave one long push through an equally long grunt, and pushed the rest of my baby out. The remaining amniotic fluid fell behind him landing on the pad that the midwife had placed beneath me. The room celebrated and I felt instant relief. My husband and I also discovered that instead of the girl we were hoping to be surprised with, we had given birth to our second baby boy. A 7-pound juicy yellow baby whose emergence still brought us much joy.
The team took its time cleaning me up, helping me to the bed, conducting the newborn assessment, cleaning up the room, and taking pictures to capture the moment for us–all while keeping the lighting low.
What Made My Labor An Almost Mermaid Birth?
That’s pretty much how it went. There are few words for this birth because it was honestly one of those things you just had to see, but it was absolutely amazing and absolutely beautiful. It was almost a mermaid birth because my water did not break until right before my baby came out. If my husband had not broken my water, it is likely It would have broken on its own as I continued to push. It is possible though that it might not have popped and that my baby would have been born en caul, or in the amniotic sac which would have made it a mermaid birth.
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