A Birth Story

As you may know, I took a hiatus from this blog to have a baby.  Thanks to Beth-Anne, Marcelle, Nathalie, and guest bloggers for making that possible.  As for my return, I thought maybe a birth story would be in order?  Here it is.


I was convinced the baby would come early, but I was wrong.  Although  my other two boys came early, and I had been having some pretty intense contractions for several weeks, I watched with surprise and then dismay as my due date came and went.

So, as surely lots of women have done before me, I tried to encourage the baby to come by doing things I don’t ordinarily do.  Like spending several hours with a three year old hunting for drills and extension cords to install curtain rods (one package had been opened and was missing a piece of course), and then hemming the curtains and hanging them up.  More productively, I went to acupunture twice.  These appointments spurred on some regular contactions at night, but spaced out again when I lay down.

Then on the sixth day after my due date, my midwife Marlene checked me, and I was 3-4 centimetres dilated.  This buoyed me up a little; at least the weeks of early labour had made tangible results.  I was still having contractions at this point, enough for Marlene to question the cleverness of my plan to drive myself to my third acupuncture appointment.  But I was determined to go and felt it would be fine.

I arrived at the acupuncture office only to immediately experience a powerful minutes-long contraction in the waiting room.  Meaning I was propping myself up on one arm while sitting on a chair, unable to move, eyes closed, head down, trying to breathe, while the acupuncturists politely pretended to ignore me.  Then the longest contraction ever ended  and I hemmed and hawed about having at least an acupressure treatment but worried aloud about not being able to drive home or even walk downstairs to a cab, when finally the acupuncturist intervened and said “I think labour is imminent” and sent me home.

I managed to drive myself home, pausing for contractions, which were about five minutes apart, and felt like labour might actually be starting for real.  I decided to take a nap, which is interesting to me in retrospect, since I knew that doing this would likely slow the contractions down.  I think that maybe, having tracked Labour down and finally gotten a glimpse of her glory, I wanted to recede from her just a little bit to gather my strength.

For thirty minutes I slept.  I know this because for three ten-minute intervals I glanced at the clock after being woken from contractions that were not like the ones I’d had before.  These contractions, ten minutes apart or no, prompted me to call my doula Crescence and ask her to come over.  I had earlier called a couple of times but had hesitated to ask her to come because I wasn’t sure whether labour had really started.  But I wasn’t hesitating anymore.

Crescence arrived shortly afterward and I greeted her excitedly because by then I knew labour was coming.  The contractions were steady and frequent, and I was already using the breathing and voicing tools she had shown me during my 20 hour birth with my second son Nathaniel.  During that birth, Crescence and I worked our way to a place of significant pain relief and joyfulness during active labour.  It was a profoundly moving experience, and I was looking forward to getting to that place for this birth too.

But for this birth, I only remember talking to Crescence between contractions maybe three times.  Then I was draped over the birthing ball, head hung low, using all my focus to manage the contractions.  No more talking.

Soon, much sooner than I thought, I was asking for the birthing pool.  It seemed to take ages to fill and I got into it before it was full.  It was August, the windows were open, and the midwives were telling my husband Ben the water in the pool was too cool.  But I felt so hot, even in the water.

And then Marlene arrived.  I believe I lifted my head for her.  She checked me, and Crescence gave a gasp of pleasure at hearing I was 8 centimetres dilated.

Shortly after that, the back-up midwife arrived, signalling that the baby would soon be born.  I was dimly aware of her presence, but would not be able to acknowledge her until after the birth.

I knew, or somehow felt, that I was fully open but I also felt stalled and had no urge to push.  Marlene confirmed that I was fully dilated but my waters had not broken.  She told me that she could speed up my labour by rupturing my waters if I got out of the pool.  I remember that she repeated herself when I made no answer.  I had heard her but couldn’t speak unnecessarily, and was deciding what to do.

It’s not that the pool was providing much pain relief, because it wasn’t.  But I knew moving would really, really hurt.  Earlier, I had shifted my left hand to reach a handle in the pool to brace myself more effectively.  It was perhaps a foot away, but it took me the length of two contractions to inch my hand over.  The thought of moving out of the pool seemed enormous, and I doubted whether I had the strength to do it. Then another wave of contractions came searing along and the thought of many more of these convinced me to speed things along.

Until now I had been breathing and voicing my way through the contractions with a certain calm.   There was even a period of time, perhaps half an hour, that Ben described as serene, when I laboured in silence and the bedroom holding five people was still, but for the warm August breeze blowing through the window.  The contractions were intensely painful, and I was suffering with some of them, but I was able to integrate them.

Moving myself out of the pool changed this.  I heaved a leg over the side of the pool, gracelessly, and stumbled onto the bed.  Pain was everywhere.  Marlene broke my waters.  I was not on top of the contractions anymore.

Turns out I’m a screamer.  Crescence told me to lower my voice (she later told me that’s what her midwife told her when she was giving birth).  Crescence said that if I kept screaming in high tones, I would hurt my throat.  I remember thinking, “My throat?  Who cares about my throat!”

When I did lower my voice, though, it was more like roaring, and was actually helpful in pushing the baby out.  The roaring noises seemed to engage certain parts of my body (the diaphragm, maybe?) that helped me to bear down in the continued absence of any urge to push.

And then Marlene was yelling at me to move my leg, and when I finally heard her and did it, the baby was born. 8 pounds, 9 ounces.  He was healthy and crying and almost immediately suckling at the breast.

Three hours and ten minutes.  Six minutes of pushing.

My sons Sam and Nat were invited into the bedroom immediately after the baby was born.  They were curious and excited.  With his dad’s help, Sammy cut the cord.  They were untroubled by anything they heard or saw because no one else in the room was.  We had also prepared them by reading Hello Baby, which is a beautiful book about homebirth from the perspective of a young child.

It’s now been eight weeks since the birth.  I’ve had some time to think about it.  While I haven’t had any great revelations about it, I’ll share what thoughts I have.

In many ways, the birth was exactly what I hoped it would be ~

~ It was a healthy, positive experience that happened at home.  Although I would have loved some pain relief, it never crossed my mind to leave home and go to the hospital.

~ It was a family event.  The kids shared in the preparation, the excitement, and were home  at the end of the labour.  They were present for the birth, and were able to experience it as a normal life event.  My mother was also there, both helping with the children, and then enjoying her youngest grandchild in his earliest moments with us.

~ I had excellent support, not just with my husband and mother, but with the labour team.  In addition to their medical expertise, the midwives were kind.  After the birth, I was encouraged to go to the washroom and shower.  As I stepped out of the shower, my mother watched Marlene kneel on the floor before me to help me step into my clothes.  My mother, once a nurse-midwife in Malaysia, observed how caring the midwife was and noted that a doctor would never have done that.

– Post-partum care was incredibly good.  I had trouble breastfeeding, and the midwives made ten home visits to facilitate what is now exclusive breastfeeding.

~ I was as open to and prepared for the birthing process as I could be.  I like to think this contributed to the speed of the labour.

~ Recovery from the home birth was quick and easy.

~ I had a lot of autonomy in deciding how the birth process unfolded.

In other ways, the home birth surprised me ~

~ I thought that in this birth I would be able to re-enter that precious state of relative comfort during active labour that I had experienced during Nathaniel’s labour.  I forgot that each birthing experience, like each child, is unique, and that there is no pattern to follow.

~ The birthing pool didn’t help nearly as much as I thought it would.  It might have taken the edge off… a little.

~ It never occurred to me that I would have such a fast labour.  Its speed probably contributed to its intensity, and perhaps explain in part why the pain relief strategies I hoped for could only help so much.

~ It also never occurred to me how wild the process could be at the end.  Wild in the true sense, a kind of animal process.  I didn’t gently exhale the baby out, like I’d seen in some youtube videos.  I’ve come to realize that while those experiences exist, for most of us, birthing a baby is squarely painful, and that the energies of aspiring natural birthers are better spent dealing with that reality than trying to find ways to evade it.

If I were to have another baby, I would homebirth again, and be just a little bit wiser.  I noticed that the more experienced women around me, the ones who haven’t been sequestered from the natural processes of life the way I have, displayed some of this wisdom.  My mother, for example, listening to me birth the baby, was not astonished by my cries as I was but rather pleased they were so few:  “I only heard you scream six or seven times,” she said.  “Was there more?”

And a week or so after the birth, I had an opportunity to review Marlene’s labour chart and notes.  In the comments section, she had  written simply, “Beautiful homebirth”.  My eyes lingered on the words.  So it was.


From Hospital to Home Birth

Do you ever astonish yourself?  I don’t, very often.  But as I enter my eight month of pregnancy, an older version of me is more than bewildered at the current me.

MidwifeDoula.  Breathing.  Voice.  Red raspberry leaf tea.  Birthing pool.  Natural birth.  And – wait for it – home birth.

I wasn’t always like this.

Five years ago, I gave birth to my first son prematurely by caesarean.  It was an emergency – at eight months, the placenta partly abrupted from my uterus.  It’s not the fact of the caesarean that bothers me, for I am forever indebted to the medical world for that surgery and the safe delivery of my baby.  But it’s the way in which I half expected to have a ceasarean that’s troubling, my own lack of confidence and professed disinterest in my body to carry a child to term.   I even requested general anaesthesia for the caesarean rather than regional because I didn’t want to be awake during the surgery.  (This request was refused.)  And when I overheard that a colleague at work was planning a natural (unmedicated) birth process to see whether she could do it, I responded with (and I quote), “Who cares?”.

Fast forward five years.  I have my heart set on a home birth.  What changed?  So very much.

Somewhere in between I had a second son.  In my eighth month of pregnancy, a friend recommended an inspiring book by a remarkable woman.  It was filled with stories of women who had had positive natural birth experiences.  I hadn’t heard anything like them in real life (just the opposite, actually), but I was moved.  I committed more firmly to having a vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC), in spite of my OB’s nervousness.  And I hired a doula, and laboured with her for a long time at home.  Here is an excerpt of my thank you letter to her:

As you may remember, my birth experience wasn’t perfect.  I was and remain horrified at how things unraveled at triage at Mt. Sinai [the hospital].  This process, this birth, that had been so carefully and lovingly nurtured until then was so quickly taken out of our hands, and taken over, that I was stunned with sadness.  But I also have the memory of labouring at home with you until then, which is one of challenging satisfaction and accomplishment to me.  And to have been awake, wide awake, to watch Nathaniel come into the world and then take him to my chest – the memory of this can still leave me breathless.  It is the only birthing I have ever seen.

So I carry a basket of great things:  the labour at home; the vaginal birth; a process largely unmedicated; your companionship and guidance; the big, beautiful baby; my intact body; the ease and pleasure of breastfeeding.  I have joy.  These early experiences with Nathaniel cut such a sharp contrast against those with Sam, and only now do I understand how much I lost that first time. 

Now I know the [caesarean] scar will hold.  If I ever have another baby, I will seriously consider labouring at home, with midwives and with you, if you are still doing this work by then.  I’m 37, and more importantly, Ben seems to think two is enough (“If you want to have another baby, Carol, you’ll have to find another husband.”).  But for me, I wouldn’t rule it out, and often feel like I would love to have another baby.  This is such a far cry from what I felt equipped to do only a few years ago, it’s hard to express.

I imagine your work to be very challenging, especially because of the generally unreceptive climate in which you do it.  I guess that you see a lot of unfulfilled potential, of women, of their bodies, of the babies within.  So I wanted you to know that you have helped to reveal, one contraction at a time, my body’s potential – for me to want to birth at home, naturally, is a far distance to have come, and I want to claim it with you for its entire worth.

Somewhere in the last couple of years, my husband’s stance on a third child cracked, and here I am, with a belly full of baby and over the moon with gratitude.  And part of that gratitude is being gifted with the chance to have a baby intentionally, governed by my own values and experiences, rather than fear.  Part of the blessing of growing this child is the excitement I feel about being able to experience labour again.

I’m not foolish; I know there are no guarantees.  If I need medical intervention, I will accept it and be thankful.  But I’d basically be denying my own life experience if I were to fail to try to have a home birth this time around.  Plus I’m a researcher by trade and I’ve done my homework, so I know that the statistics repeatedly demonstrate that home birth for low-risk women cared for by midwives is at least as safe as hospital birth.  (More pragmatically, the data on this point would have to be rock solid in order for the government to fully fund home births attended by midwives in Ontario, which it does).

If you’d told me five years ago that I would be a home birth enthusiast, I would have said you were crazy.  But then again, if you’d told me back then, when I had the unbridled freedom to go for a walk without telling a soul, that I’d find my greatest happiness tethered to two tykes wrapped around my knees, only partly visible under my watermelon tum, I’d not have believed you either.   So maybe stranger things have happened.