The news that my husband would be deploying on the due date of our second child was both familiar and heartbreaking. He had deployed on the due date of our firstborn and was thousands of miles away by the time I finally went into labor and delivered our son. We thought we’d planned better with our second and final child, but being in the military means always expecting the unexpected.
We tried in vain to get my husband’s command to allow him to stay home until after our baby was born. At the time, we were stationed overseas, and his deployment meant I would be completely alone with our toddler while giving birth. My family was back home in the States, and while I had a few friends, none was close enough to be my sole source of support during such a difficult time. Desperate, we turned to the battalion chaplain and begged for his help. He was empathetic to our struggle and put in a good word for us with the battalion commander, who decided to let my husband remain behind for two weeks after the battalion deployed.
Two weeks to give birth and get home before he would leave us for more than half a year. We were grateful and terrified. What if I didn’t go in to labor in time?
We scheduled a prenatal visit with my OB/GYN at the military hospital and asked him to induce me. The doctor told us he wouldn’t even consider it unless I was already two weeks past my due date.
Frustrated I said, “Well, then my husband is going to break my water!” I hadn’t really thought it out or even told my husband, but I wanted the doctor to help us. It was a lame, desperate threat.
The doctor laughed and said “Good luck with that.” Being a hormonal mess, I started crying. The doctor offered to scrape my membranes to possibly start natural labor, but reiterated that there was nothing more he could do until I passed my due date.
After the uncomfortable cervical scraping, I went home with my husband and waited. Days passed and nothing changed. As we approached the fourth day, I panicked. Like many young military families, we had little money and no car. We relied on public transportation or taxis to get us where we needed to go and we were stationed about 45 minutes from the military hospital where I would deliver. I was terrified to go through labor without my husband by my side and to navigate my way to the hospital alone.
We tried all the home remedies that were supposed to start labor: raspberry leaf tea, sex, walking, spicy food; you name it, we did it. Still nothing.
On the seventh day, desperation became fear.
“You have to break my water,” I told my husband. Since I’d said it at the doctor’s office, it had been stirring in my head as a possibility.
“What are you talking about?” he said. He shook his head and looked at me like I was crazy.
“I’ve seen how they do it,” I told him. “They use a long hook, like a knitting hook, and it breaks the water. Once that happens, I’ll go into labor. Then you’ll be here, and everything will be OK.”
I was 20 years old, stupid, scared and had no idea what I was talking about, yet my mind was made up. I had to do whatever it took to have our baby before my husband deployed. It took a day of coaxing, but finally my husband agreed.
With only six days left before he deployed, we had to hurry. We set up childcare for our toddler in advance and once we dropped him off, got to work prepping the bathroom. We sterilized everything and put towels on the floor for me to lie down on. My husband fashioned a hook out of a wire coat hanger and boiled it in a large pot of water for half an hour to make sure it was clean. He then doused the hook in alcohol and put on a pair of latex gloves.
“I’m scared,” my husband confided.
“I know, but we are out of options,” I replied. “Just be really careful.”
My husband decided to insert his fingers first to feel where to place the hook before using it. He looked startled when he told me that he could feel the placenta pulled taut over our unborn child’s head.
“I can feel the baby!” he cried out. He tried to pinch the placenta to create a safe spot to puncture, but every time he tried, the placenta snapped back like a strong rubber band.
“I can’t grab it,” he said. He kept trying and although it felt uncomfortable, I stayed quiet.
I stared up at the ceiling and prayed that our baby would be safe and that it would work. Then, I felt my husband pull his hand from me.
“I can’t get it,” he said. He hadn’t even used the hook yet. When he looked down at his gloved fingers, he turned pale. They were covered in blood. “Oh God,” he said, “what do I do?”
I felt a surge of calmness wash over me as well as the mild thump of a contraction.
“You need to call the ambulance,” I said. We knew that if I went in to labor, the ambulance would be the quickest way to get to the hospital. My husband already had the number by the phone and as soon as he ripped the glove off his hands, he called.
Within 10 minutes, the on-base ambulance had arrived and hooked me up to a fetal heartbeat monitor. I stopped breathing when they told me they couldn’t find our baby’s heartbeat.
In that moment I realized that I had been playing Russian roulette with my unborn baby’s life because I was afraid of giving birth alone. I prayed that we hadn’t done anything to hurt our child.
The EMTs called in for another ambulance, one from off base, that would rush me to the nearest non-military hospital since it was a potential life or death emergency. When the second ambulance came, they were also unable to find our baby’s heartbeat and rushed me to the hospital 15 minutes away. I held on to my stomach and told my baby how much I loved him, and how sorry I was for being so stupid.
When we reached the hospital, a nurse in the labor and delivery department hooked me up to another fetal monitor and within seconds found a healthy, strong heartbeat.
“Their monitor must’ve been broken,” she told us. “It happens all the time.”
I was examined and already dilated to four centimeters, the minimum requirement for being admitted to the hospital for labor.
The ambulance loaded me back on and drove my husband and me to the military hospital where, at 9:38 that night, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy. My guilt and overwhelming emotion caused me to confess to the delivering doctor what we’d done.
When we explained that my husband had never even used the hook he’d fashioned, just his fingers, the doctor said he believed that my husband had simply re-stripped my membranes and that triggered labor naturally. He also told us that it was very stupid and risky and that we could have harmed the baby as well as exposed us both to a potential infection.
He was right. Looking back, I can’t believe how ignorant I had been and that I was willing to risk harming my child or myself because I was scared to be alone during childbirth.
Five days after our son was born, my husband deployed for seven long months. I would never recommend any mom-to-be do what we did, but I hope that readers understand that when families are desperate, they can (and do) make decisions that aren’t always safe.
Editor’s Note: This is one mother’s story and should not be considered an endorsement of the methods described. Pregnant women should always discuss labor induction with a qualified medical professional.
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