#225 | Free-Birthing as a Woman of Color: How Nichollette Chose One Extreme Over Another

August 9, 2023

Maternal mortality for black women is three times higher in the United States, at almost 70 deaths per 100,000.  As a woman of color, Nichollette Jones was motivated to protect herself and her daughter from the risks and protocols associated with hospitals, especially during Covid, which showed a sky-rocketing of maternal mortality statistics across the board in the U.S. Unable to cover the cost of a home birth midwife, she determined her next-safest option was to have her baby at home with her mother and partner.  Nichollette spent her pregnancy learning the most common childbirth emergencies and how to handle them, but mostly, she nurtured a deep trust in her body and her ancestral wisdom to give birth with ease and without complication.  And that she did! As you'll hear, Nichollette has a hard time not laughing through the joyful memories of her empowering home water birth story.

During the second part of our discussion, we get into the psychology/mindset Nichollette practiced, which likely contributed to her positive outcome beyond luck, which is always a factor in any birth. Nichollette demonstrates the degree of responsibility it takes to birth without professional labor support. We also explore the heaviness of the free-birth option: What "drives" some women to free birth when it wasn't their first choice upon becoming pregnant? What was Nichollette's 'Plan B' if a complication had occurred? Are most women reasonable candidates for free birth? And, did our ancestors really birth alone, free-birth style, or what did their support actually look like? The United States medical system is already lacking in its support for midwife-attended home-birth transfers; it's nonexistent with free birth.

Today's episode gives us a joyful scope into one woman's birth, while raising more serious considerations around the lack of safe birthing options for American mothers, and especially women of color.
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View Episode Transcript

I'm Cynthia Overgard, owner of HypnoBirthing of Connecticut, childbirth advocate and postpartum support specialist. And I'm Trisha Ludwig, certified nurse midwife and international board certified lactation consultant. And this is the Down To Birth Podcast. Childbirth is something we're made to do. But how do we have our safest and most satisfying experience in today's medical culture? Let's dispel the myths and get down to birth.

I'm Nichollette Jones. And I'm from Fort Worth, Texas. I am a mama to a beautiful daughter of two years old. And I'm just here to tell my like first time for you birthing at home water birth story that was virtually pain free, which was amazing as a first time mom, especially a mom of color, you know, here in the south. So that's great, Nicolette. So how did you come to the decision to free birth? That when was the first time you had that idea? And was it because you were driven away from birthing somewhere else? Or was it because you actually longed to give birth on your own and I assume with your partner as well, at the time, he was my partner. And yes, he was president during the time where it's I don't know what I would have done. But one of the biggest decisions for me wanting to give birth at home was kind of like twofold. One, I'm a woman of color. And the fact that we're about 340% more likely to die from childbirth was like very, very staggering, and an eye opening for me. And then I was actually giving birth and pregnant during the pandemic. So I definitely did not want to be inside of a hospital and run the risk of one possibly dying from giving birth to my daughter but also having her taken away from me because of all the COVID protocols and everything. So I wanted to make sure that I did everything that I could to be at home with my daughter to have an uninterrupted unmedicated just my birth, birth in my power as much as possible and have my daughter with me the entire time. Um, so that was the major major driving forces, really wanting to be at home protecting myself protecting my daughter. And then I just really wanted to, I don't know, I feel like birth is really sacred and birth is very transformative and empowering for women, as long as we're the ones in charge of that birth. And I just heard so many horror stories of being in the hospital and being taken advantage of during those vulnerable moments when all you want to do is make sure that your baby and yourself are okay. So come and do things that you might not have wanted to actually do or they might not have even been necessary.

You know, how did how did you come to the decision to actually give birth on your own? Because it's one thing to want to avoid the hospital like, totally makes sense. It's another thing to choose to give birth totally unattended. was hoped was a midwife assisted birth a consideration or what was it that really led you to do the free birth?

Yeah. So when I first found out I was pregnant, I was all like Uber excited, like, Yeah, I'm gonna have the midwife at home and everything. And so I went through the process of trying to find a midwife that would do a home birth. And I found one that I really resonated with that I was really I connected with, you know, I felt like yeah, I can have you in this this sacred space. But interestingly, my insurance did not cover it. And at the time, I believe she was charging about 5300 or so for her services. And outside of insurance, I knew that I wouldn't be able to afford that. And so I just kept thinking to myself, Okay, how can I make this work payments, you know, or whatever the case maybe? And then just something intuitively was just kind of like, but your ancestors did it at home by themselves without anybody present. You know, they had elders with them. Maybe other women that that birth and stuff like that. So if they could do it, then you can do it to me, you know, like, you just really need to strengthen your intuition and listen to your body, you know, and just really educate yourself and what's going to happen, right? Because I think a lot of the times we don't know what our body is doing or how our body is doing it. And so I did all the things, you know, and luckily for me, I was already a certified doula. So I already had some experience with birth as well. And so that coupled along with the the financial aspect of it, you know, and then just my intuition was just like, No, you can you can do this. No, I know, I couldn't do it completely by myself. So I had my mom there, as well as my daughter's father was there. So I wasn't like alone in the tub. You know, I had my elder my mom with me.

Have you ever attended a free birth before?

No, no, because it's not very common, at least in my area, like even having a midwife and doing birthing center birth is not very common.

Your instinct was already very good to want to be especially careful during COVID, because we saw such dangerous protocols being implemented. And we now have the data to show maternal mortality, which is already higher in our country than any other Western and many, African and Eastern nations as well. But maternal mortality was, was 40%, higher during COVID. And for women of color, it's already many fold higher, and he's just so it's, it was good. It was a good instinct, but what how did you come to the like, I guess my first question is, it was your first baby, you didn't have the ability to save yourself. I've done this once before. And I know what went well, if you had to be able to save yourself, what if I'm that woman who needs intervention? I'm sure that thought went through your mind, especially because you initially were hoping to have a midwife. So what was plan B, what was going to be your plan to recognize if something did require medical intervention? What were you going to do about it? And how are you going to recognize it?

Yeah, so again, I educated myself a lot on the common, I guess, the common like interventions and things that are necessary so like hemorrhaging, tearing, you know, and things of that nature. So I had, I'm not an herbalist, you know, I'm kind of like as an as needed, or, you know, and so I had a home homeopathic kit on deck for me, you know, if I needed some sort of help. If I had some sort of cervical lip, I had article oil on deck to be able to rub on there, if I needed to move that in place. I was already already knowledgeable about the different positions I could get in it baby, if my daughter for some reason decided not to be, you know, not to be head down, you know, to be able to spin her like with spinning babies. And then I again, I just had a lot of herbal things on deck for me to be able to take if I needed to. And then there was a hospital that was 15 minutes nearby. So if I needed to leave, you know, I did have the hospital very close by if I needed to.

Did you have any particular fears about free birth? Or was there one thing about birth that you kind of felt most like, unsure about? Or did you just really feel like, I know, this is going to be okay, I will prepare myself for X, Y and Z. But I totally trust this process.

No, actually, I didn't have any fear, any reservations? None whatsoever. And I really thought throughout my entire pregnancy and birth that everything was gonna be okay. Like, there was no fear. There was no worry, there were no concerns for me, in reference to carrying my child or birthing my child.

So did you have any prenatal care?

Yeah, so I did, there was a group of midwives that operated outside of the inside of a hospital that were within my network. And so I contacted vital records, you know, just to make sure that home birth and everything was okay in the state of Texas. And the only thing that they required was that, you know, I had to show proof of pregnancy through prenatal visits. And so that was the only reason why I truly went.

You mean to get a birth certificate? There has to be some documentation legally that you were pregnant in order to come and get a birth certificate, there has to be some medical providers name on the birth certificate or something? Most likely, so Okay, so tell us about your free birth then. Let's hear how did it go?

Okay, so I was 40 weeks and three days. And um, it was the most amazing experience of my life. Like, I know a lot of women are like, I don't know if I ever want to be pregnant or goodbye. again and I'm like, sign me up, like how many more times can I do the entire shebang. It was the best day of my life. I felt like I was on an oxytocin high the entire day. And like I didn't even realize I was in my birthing time until my water broke at 1030 that night. That's how smooth it was, you know, like, I woke up that day, me and him or her and me and her father, and we ran errands. We were listening to music, telling jokes, sharing stories. We were just laughing and smiling the entire day. I ate really good food. I was having breakfast. I thought were Braxton Hicks contractions the entire day. But apparently I was in early labor. And getting ready to switch over into active labor around I think about 6pm. But for the most part all day, I was just breezing through my contractions. I was writing them, they didn't. They didn't make me crouched over. They didn't make me have to stop for a second. I was just like, oh, that's a little tightness, you know, and we just kept on moving. You know? Um, I remember that night, we've been in tried a new, vegan place to try the food and it was horrible. It made me throw up because it was so nasty. So you went out to dinner in the middle of labor?

Apparently I was. And I was like, Oh, this is so nasty. You know, we kept dancing, I ate something else. Instead, we cleaned up, you know, we were still listening. And this vibing out all day went upstairs into our bedroom. I can't remember what we were laughing about. But I had to let out like the biggest laugh was my life. And I felt like this pop right in my belly button. And I was like, that's interesting. I haven't felt that. And then next thing I know, it was like this huge gush of water that came out into the bed. You know, and I'm just sitting here like, laughing I'm like, I think my water broke. I think My water just broke. He just like jumped up, ran out of room. immediately went downstairs to start inflating the tub, you know, and filling it up because we had already kind of did like a practice run. I called myself do Louis training him and my mom to be my doulas but they didn't follow the curriculum. But he followed that bar to run downstairs and inflate the tub and fill it up because he knew how long it was going to be. And I just hopped off the bed like in in astonishment, like I was in wow, you know, in shock, like, oh my gosh, this is happening. I have my birthing ball right next to the beds on this topic on my birthing ball. And like rubbing my baby my belly and like, oh my gosh, we're doing this Mommy's not ready. We're doing if you're ready, then Mommy's gonna get ready, even though like, okay, just hopping up and down. And then finally I got off. And I'm just like pacing through, because I'm just like, oh my gosh, I'm having we're having a baby today. Like, I was just excited. Like, completely excited. We're having a baby tonight. You know. And then finally, I made my way downstairs, because I decided to call my mom, you know, or whatever. But she wasn't answering. So I had him continually calling her because I knew she wanted to be there. And I knew I wanted to get there. But I was like, I guess if she's not going to be here, then she's not meant to be here, you know, type of thing. The lights and everything were dim. And I was still dancing like anniversary, if you know Tony, Tony today, um, but it's one of my favorite like 90s r&b songs. And we were just on the ball dancing and grooving to that. And then finally, something within me, I feel like I kind of like blacked out for a second or not blacked out, but like, zoned out, like went somewhere else completely. You know, like, my body was there. But mentally and physically, like, spiritually, I wasn't there. And I think when I finally came back, you know, to this room. When I came back to this room, it was like, Okay, I'm ready to get in the tub. And then the next thing I knew, I felt like at this point, the contractions started getting really intense for me. And I was like, hold up. I don't I my labor just started. I don't know, if I had can go another 12 hours if they're going to be like this. I think that was the first time fear came into my mind. You know, and then I, my mom had said, you're here. Remember, you're here, you know, and something clicked in my head. Oh, a lot of us say that we can't do this. We're not sure we're going to be able to do this right at the end. Right? That's right. It's it's like a known phenomenon that women have feelings of wanting to escape to like run out of their bodies to say, I'm not doing this to change their whole birth plan and say, Get me the drugs. And you have to prepare women by saying, when you have those thoughts, they feel very real. I experienced it myself in both births. You can have real thoughts where you have conviction. And that's a key word here. You can have conviction, there is no way I can do this, or I can do any more of this. And that conviction is false. Yeah. And it's a phenomenon that many women experience that just Like, there's no way I'm not doing this, I can't do this. And somehow it's like riding a wave. Somehow we ended up on the other side of that thought, and we've just done it. But that's, it's important to know, like, your mother stopped you and said, Wait a minute, this is this is a marker, you might be right there at the end now, and you didn't know because no one was there giving you vaginal exams. That's usually that's usually the moment when the midwives look at each other and go, you know, go get the birth kit.

It's time time. Yeah.

Yeah. You know, and so it's, like I said, that she reminded me and it was like, I had this renewed amount of strength and confidence in my ability. And it was like, I remember just holding her hand, because she came over and she grabbed my hand, and she said it. And I remember the position I was in my left leg was bent down knee to the ground in the tub. And my right, my right leg was bent, you know, up against the wall of the tub, and I was leaning over, she's holding my hand and I'm like, Okay, I took a really, really big deep breath. And I waited for the next contraction, the next breathing wave. And with that, when it was like, Okay, I filled her head at that point, because at the same time, I forgot to say, at the same time, I was like, I can't do this, I was like, get me out of this tub, I need to pull out the biggest poop of my life, I need to go, you know, or whatever. And so it's like, when she reminded me, it was like, Okay, I'm about to transition, it's almost time for me to push. That's her head, you know, I don't need to move. That's her head. And so I took a deep breath, I can fill my confidence and power rising. And with the next contraction, I push, and I think I let out the biggest mom or war ever in life. And her head was out. And her father was in the tub with me. So he was there behind me catching. And he said, Oh my gosh, her head is on her head and her eyes are open. So he's like, You need to push, you need to push, you need to push this time she's here, she's here. Please, as well, all I need to wait for the next interaction, please just wait. You know, because I knew that I didn't want to push against the contraction because that leads to the tearing. And so um, I waited, I took another deep breath, no roar this time and her whole body just kind of, you know, out. And he called her. Eileen back. He gave it to me, you know, and I think I tried to pull her like, all the way up to my shoulder. But my umbilical cord was way too short. It was long enough for her to be right here on my chest, you know, and enough for her to be able to, you know, find my breast and start to notice and latch and stuff like that. So it was it was beautiful. Like I said, My water broke at 1030. All of those things happened by 2:27am. She was here and in my arms.

Yeah, that's a fast birth. That's a fast first.

I was like, Oh my God, if this is gonna go like this, I can do this every single time.

So and How about how about your placenta? What happened there?

Yes, it came out like No, no problem. I'm gonna know how long after but I know it wasn't long after. And I didn't have to take anything. I didn't have to do any type of like stimulation or abdominal like massages or anything. It was just kind of like I got out of the tub. I had the stainless steel pan on top of the text pads on the floor. And I literally just kind of like rolled over it. So like a mama goddess squat on top of a stainless steel pan with my daughter and my arms. And I just laid there. I didn't have to push it just kind of like it just went out into what was your favorite part of my pregnancy or my birth? Now of your birth? What was your favorite part of your birth?

I think my favorite part was, well, there's two if I have to label it down to just one. I think it would be when my mom came over and grabbed my hand and reminded me of where I was and I powered. That was something I think about and empowers me even to this day when I feel like I can't do it. I feel like I'm failing as a mom or something like that. Like that moment helps to just re energize me and tell me like yes you can you done one of the seemingly you know, like hardest things in the world. Like you can do this.

You said two parts. So what was your other favorite part?

Was my water broke? And that just like that pure excitement of knowing that was getting ready to burn her, you know? Yeah. That entire time just like dancing and just pure joy. Like I really feel like I hit oxytocin slowly.

You're like, it's funny. You didn't take HypnoBirthing or anything. I know you didn't mention that. But you are kind of a poster child for exactly what HypnoBirthing is all about. Because the first lesson and HypnoBirthing of many is language you if if we could pull out all the nouns and adjectives used if you said so many positive words like laughing, joyful, trust excited, even the part where your mother obviously means the world to you and even them moment where you didn't know if she would make it, you said, Well, I just trusted this is how it's meant to be. So many women instead would get panicky or they would feel like they can't continue on. But to constantly have that feeling of trust, I just want women to know that this is one of those things that we do influence in our births, there's so much in our control, and we think most of it is out of our control out of our control. But the way we think and the way we have beliefs, and the language we use, does impact the physiology of our birth.

And it's something that I'm gonna continue to do, if I'm ever blessed, you know, again, but I made sure to, especially during my pregnancy to only surround myself with positivity. But I also set aside a time to just like pray and meditate and just tell my own story to myself, and constantly visualize my birth, right and visualize, like in research, what would I need to do to make sure that vision came true? Yeah, I did a lot of prep and protection.

Women don't realize this, but they are always visualizing their birth when they're pregnant. So because they're not usually aware that they're visualizing their birth all the time, they're often visualizing the birthday don't want and the things that they fear. So to purposefully visualize the birth that you do want, and to only Surround yourself with positive supportive messages and people does have the Well, that's certainly the belief in HypnoBirthing, it does have that impact. It's true for anything in life. I mean, it's stuff even Tony Robbins teaches, like, visualize the outcome that you want. And you intentionally did that every day. So it's nice to see that, you know, it's nice to see that that did work out so well for you. Yeah. Do you think the birth is for very few people? Or do you think it's from for everyone? It's hard to imagine that but like, what, what do you what do you really think about free birth?

Who do you think it's for who is the right candidate for free birth, I think everyone is capable of free birthing their baby, I think everyone is capable of that, I think you need a lot of preparation, I think you need a lot of education and information. But um, I think the most important thing is that you need the right mindset around your ability, you to be able to do it, you know, if you're someone who doesn't believe that you can, if you have hate to say this, but if you have like low self esteem, you know, if you seek external validation, for everything that you do, it's gonna, I think it's going to be really hard to Freebird because you're always going to be looking for someone else to take charge and make the decisions for you. And I think in order to free birth, you really have to believe and know that your body was created to do exactly this, and really believe it without any shadow of a doubt. Um, to be able to do that, you know, and then just educate yourself, because I think a lot of the times the fear surrounding birth, pregnancy, and motherhood comes from just not knowing what's happening. You know, so if you're able to sit there and know that, hey, I have these three walls of muscles called My uterus, you know, that are actual muscles that are going to be expanding and contracting to push my baby down, then it's easier for you to tell yourself, oh, each contraction is bringing me closer to my baby. Because you're able to actually visualize and know and see and feel that attraction pushing your baby down, you know, if you're able to know, the actual holistic stages of birth, along with the what I call Western medicine, stages of birth, like YPO, I don't know if you've heard of her. And one of those stages is equivalent to the transition stage, right. And that's when the a lot of the women will say, I can't do this, I can't do this, I can't do this. But because I was familiar with the holistic stages of birth and knowing that, okay, when I say I can't do this, I'm right there, that helps write that, you know, whereas if you're in a hospital setting, if you don't believe in yourself, if you don't know that your body can do this, and you don't know those holistic stages, then you're really gonna believe that I can't do this. Shoot. So you're really gonna believe that you need the drugs and you need to be transferred to a hospital?

It sounds like what you're saying is, it's not for everyone. It's really I mean, you you want to you believe theoretically, it is because you know, we've been doing this since the beginning of time. But it does sound like you're saying that you're aware that you did certain things and you are aware of your own character traits that made free birth work well for you, in addition to the luck that you also received of having a baby that was well positioned and a healthy pregnancy, I mean, all of these components, you're recognizing led to your free birth. I just want to mention that we did an episode with Herman Hays client, I believe it came out last August 2022, where she was talking about this trend in free birthing, where women are giving birth at home and assisted coming from just as you said, Well, we You can't pay out of pocket for this midwife that you were hoping to hire. It's coming from the lack of support for women who want to have a home birth. And they think there's there isn't a good plan B to get them to a hospital. So they're like to heck with all of you, I'm just going to do a free birth. And she was saying, it'd be so nice if all of these approaches were actually supported by the medical system, because that is Plan B, for all of us, we do need that backup. You know, so it's just, it's free birth is interesting, because there's a component of let's just trust our bodies and know that our ancestors did this. But it's also like, why am I doing this? Because I'm really lacking the support everywhere else.

Yeah. And I can see that I can see that for a lot of women. It is not for everybody, but

Well, it's not it's not that you're saying, it seems like what you're saying is it takes a high degree of responsibility. And not only do we need to educate ourselves, but really deeply trusting in the process. It seems like you're saying that's what contributed to your own good outcome. Again, in addition to luck, it's just Trisha and I not really, we've never had really a position on free birth. But we have recognized that women are often driven to it, because of the lack of support.

And I don't I don't think that free birth is really what historically, women have done. Women have historically birth their babies on their own, surrounded by a team of people who have experience in birth, like some women birth their babies alone, because they had no choice. They didn't have a village or didn't have people who could be around but birth has always been attended and supported by someone knowledgeable in birth, whether that's a mother or a sister, or an aunt or cousin, or a midwife an elder it, which is actually what you did, having having your mother there, but modern free birth is a little bit, you know, it is a little bit different. I mean, some of it is women truly just choosing to give birth entirely alone. So maybe, you know, maybe that's in part why that's different that isn't necessarily for everyone. But yes, is every woman's body capable of birthing without an OB or midwife? Yeah, totally. We're supposed to just be there as the observer anyway. It's not how it's put. It's not how it's done today. But really, that's what it's meant to be. So in that sense, free birth is for everyone. Any other sense that, you know, you do it alone in a room with nobody there to look for something that's not for everyone? Right now, nor do we necessarily think that's the right way to go about it. But sometimes it's the only option for somebody. Yeah, because nothing is without risk. So it is a matter of backup plans. You know, it's not a matter of crossing our fingers and praying. It's like, well, what are the what is Plan B? We all need to know what that is.

I would just also like to add, like from a medical perspective, right, just purely taking that into account. I think if you're a first time mom and high risk, then you know, free birth might not be the best option as well. Right?

Right. Yeah, because they're very safe ways to manage high risks in the hospital. Whether it's preeclampsia or hypertension, the biggest issue we are facing today, is the use of unnecessary medical intervention. It isn't the problem isn't the use of medical intervention. It's the use of unnecessary medical intervention, right? It's an important distinction, the difficulty choosing who is actually high risk and who is not you, as you said in this conversation that you know, if your baby was breech, you were still going this route, whereas most people would say, well, breech would put you into the high risk category. So free birth is not a good option. So it's what what makes a woman high risk, that line that line moves depending on who you're talking to.

Right? There's so many variables and nuances when it comes to, you know, navigating pregnancy and birth for each individual woman, you know.

So what do you say? I mean, do you have what's your key message? Is it too? Do you have a key message for all women? Do you have a key message for young first time moms? Do you have a key message for women of color? I mean, where do you really feel like you want to take a megaphone and make an announcement to women and what is it you really want to say?

My spirit to say you can do this, what's the first thing that came to mind? Um, but I think my key message would be regardless if you're a first time mom or mom of color, any kind of you know any mom at all period, is that you are more powerful and capable than you can ever imagine. And as long as you trust in your body and you trust in your intuition and your emotions, the very things that they tell us to dismiss your pregnancy your birth will be exactly What you need it to be it'll be one of the most empowering experiences of your life that you can carry with you in your moments of doubt and your moments of uncertainty you know to carry through you just have to trust.

Thank you for joining us at the Down To Birth Show. You can reach us @downtobirthshow on Instagram or email us at Contact@DownToBirthShow.com. All of Cynthia’s classes and Trisha’s breastfeeding services are offered live online, serving women and couples everywhere. Please remember this information is made available to you for educational and informational purposes only. It is in no way a substitute for medical advice. For our full disclaimer visit downtobirthshow.com/disclaimer. Thanks for tuning in, and as always, hear everyone and listen to yourself.

How did you come into the world? What was your mother's experience birthing you? Did she had to overcome what she experienced in order to be there for you? Or was this right in line with what she experienced birth to be in her own life?

No, this is completely contradictory. She had me at a hospital. She did have me naturally though. So she didn't have any medicine or anything like that she didn't have to have and then she did have a vaginal birth. So she had a natural natural unmedicated vaginal birth but it was in the hospital.

Well, that wasn't completely contradictory. No, you're right. I'm being experienced body. Yeah, right. She experienced your own body birthing a baby, just not with the total freedom that you had. Maybe it was a little less laughter than you had for a few more people.

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About Cynthia Overgard

Cynthia is a published writer, advocate, childbirth educator and postpartum support specialist in prenatal/postpartum healthcare and has served thousands of clients since 2007. 

About Trisha Ludwig

Trisha is a Yale-educated Certified Nurse Midwife and International Board Certified Lactation Counselor. She has worked in women's health for more than 15 years.

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