**This post describes our home birthing experience, and includes details about the actual birth itself. So if you’re squeamish, or not up to it, or prefer not to know about such things (ahem, Dad) then please feel free to skip it. I freely admit to avoiding birth stories while pregnant and making a special effort not to read them after my overwhelmingly negative experience of birthing my first son. Also, this post is going to be loooooong, so you may want to get a snack.**
I hardly know where to begin.
I had planned to write a series of posts in the 5Ws vein describing how we came to be interested in, chose to have, and planned our home birth. A certain wee lad had other plans however, and decided to put the cart before the horse as it were. So, we will begin at the end – with a beginning.
I was “due” on February 9 – a date that I have always questioned as there was no possible way to approximate the date of conception (years of anovulation, PCOS, infertility diagnosis, breastfeeding) and the EDD was made from one dating ultrasound. Other measurements along the way (NT scan, anatomy scan, fundal height, etc.) seemed to jive with this date so I went with it. For some reason, however, I had an inkling that I voiced to several people that I would not be making it out of Week 38. MJB was born at 38w2d.
For a few days leading up to it I had been having pretty strong Braxton Hicks contractions in the evening and throughout the night. I mentioned it to one my midwives at my appointment on the Thursday before and she said that sometimes with second babies “…your uterus can get very irritable.” INDEED, I thought. Friday and Saturday night I woke up every hour or so feeling very uncomfortable. On Sunday night/early Monday morning I would wake up and think “I REALLY need to pee.” but the pressure was not relieved. I would have to wait out the sensation and it would disappear. Hmmmmmmm. After 3 of these in two hours, I woke BJB up at 5:30 am and said “Babe, I think something is maybe happening.” I don’t recall his response but it was probably some sort of sleepy acknowledgement/denial. We decided to get up before HGB, only to look outside and see a blizzard. PERFECT.
By the time BJB got out of the shower I was starting to feel pretty excited that “something was happening” and asked if it was possible to please work from home? I then texted my friend who was going to look after HGB for us to put her on alert. Throughout the morning I was having pretty mild sensations, but they were also coming pretty regularly every 20 minutes or so. Then every 15, then every 30, and I started to feel disappointed that maybe it was nothing. I was feeling guilty that BJB has taken the day off and my friend was preparing to leave work early for no reason. Both of whom were basically like “Dude. It’s FINE! No worries. Also, you are obviously going to have a baby today.”
BJB decided to run out with HGB before lunch and pick up a few things that seemed monumentally important to me at the time and now I forget what they were. Apple juice? Loonies for laundry? Doesn’t matter. He texted me to ask if I wanted poutine from the chip truck like he has never met me before in my life. Obviously I said yes. If you are going to puke your guts out during transition, I recommend that your last meal be something beige and fatty versus say, spicy pad thai. Learn from my experience!
The next few hours were spent knitting on the couch, watching Downton Abbey, and jumping up every ten minutes or so to walk around for 30-60 seconds. The waves were becoming a little more intense, but nothing that a little pacing and toning (sounding “oooooooh” and “aaaaaaaah” deeply) couldn’t handle. Around 2:00 pm I moved to sitting on the ball. BJB got a phone call from a friend we seem to have kept missing for the last year who suddenly wondered why he was at home. “Oh, SRB is in labour” BJB casually tells him. So, I talked to SG for approximately 8 minutes before needing to pass him back to BJB. At this point I am thinking “SRB, you are not talking so well through these anymore. This is happening.” And this incredible feeling of excitement and happiness washed over me. I made a super casual call to my main midwife and left a message that I was in early labour and would call her back later.
Our next call was to our friend SK to please come and pick up HGB. I wanted to write a lot more about this in advance, and I will expand on it more in a later post retrospectively, but we were not sure what our plan for HGB was during the birth. I knew I didn’t want him to witness the actual birth because I feel that he is too young and I didn’t want to frighten him. I also knew that I would not be able to tolerate having someone in the house looking after him during the birth as our apartment is only one level, and I did not want to feel restricted in where I could move. Ultimately, I decided that HGB would have fun with Auntie SK and Uncle PR for the night, so we called and she came right away. Leading up to the birth, I was extremely reluctant to ship him off for the night, only to come home and find Usurper Baby in mum’s arms. But when it came down to it, I needed him to be safely away so that I could concentrate on his brother, and his dad could concentrate on me. More on this in a later post (if I remember, which I probably won’t.)
At this point, I decide that I want to get into the bathtub. This was the only thing that brought me any relief during my runaway train-style labour with HGB. Up until now, I had been doing pretty well with walking and toning through the waves, and focusing on my “Peace” cue from my Hypnobabies preparation. While in the tub, I tried my best to do the “finger drop” and the “eyes open” stuff, but couldn’t seem to focus on it. Instead, I found myself just closing my eyes and visualizing that each wave was in fact, just that – a wave. I was confident that I could climb to the top, and then gently roll back down. In fact, my “special place” was a beach I used to visit frequently when I lived in Nova Scotia, so this really worked for me. I know how this sounds, believe me. I was surprised that I didn’t end up “using” the HB techniques per se, BUT I do believe that HB helped prepare me for this experience in the way that nothing else could have. Namely, my attitude throughout this pregnancy and moving into this birthing experience were radically different than my first experience and HB helped to cultivate and fortify that for me. When my labour became “active” at this stage in the day, I felt calm and relaxed (something I believe is absolutely key to a woman in labour). Moreover, I felt capable and strong, safe and supported. I really did do the “…when each of my powerful pressure waves ends I feel happy, and smile” thing. For real. I clearly remember BJB saying “You are doing an amazing job of keeping your face relaxed” and this made me feel so good.
Back to the action! The bathtub was not where I wanted to be, so I got out and leaned on the bathroom counter for a while. My bag of waters STILL had not broken, so I was expecting this to happen at any second. (They broke it “for me” with HGB, so I had no frame of reference about what this would be like.) BJB brought me the gown I wore when HGB was born, and we stayed in the bathoom for a little while. I am not sure how long because we do not own a clock (seriously), and one of my birth preferences was to be blissfully ignorant of the time. I was generally feeling the sensations in my back, hips, and the fronts of my thighs, so BJB would be instructed as to where to apply counter-pressure with each wave. My back needed a break though, so I went back to the living room to kneel and lean on my exercise ball for support. We were no longer tracking the frequency or length of the waves any longer as there simply wasn’t time. I announce, with absolute certainty, that it is time to page the midwife.
We called our main midwife, Natalie, around 6:00ish. She stayed on the phone with me for about a half hour, taking to both of us and listening to me have contractions. At the end of the third one she said “Okay, we’re getting in the car and coming over! We’re having a BABY!!!!!” I stayed exactly where I was until they arrived about an hour later. At some point BJB put on the playlist we made (all Ravi Shankar/new age/yoga type stuff… I don’t know why) and I could tolerate that for about 6 minutes. I should also mention that BJB just casually made and ate enchiladas during this portion of the evening, and was nearly crucified for his breath in my face. ANYWAY. The three midwives show up (I’ll explain why there are three in another post) but I barely notice. Natalie comes over and gives me a big hug and after some words of excitement and encouragement, asks to take my vitals and listen to the baby. She says everything looks great, but would it be okay to check me? I agree and insist on going to my bed for this for some reason. I think I was afraid my water would break all over HGB’s play mat or something. I forget.
She warns me that the check will be “uncomfortable” and I’m like “Dude. I doubt I will notice.” She says I am about 9-10 cm! I looked at BJB and he looked so surprised, but also so proud of me. I’ll never forget that. He got very excited and started running around to help the midwives set up all their gear. This literally included boiling water and getting towels ready. We had managed to make up the bed earlier in the afternoon, but hadn’t cleared off the dresser yet. He got to work doing this and set the plastic pail down for a second on top of the dresser. Meanwhile, I had gotten up to pace again and decided that I needed to vomit. RIGHT NOW. Into the pail! And then eleven or so more times! Much better. Natalie exclaimed surprise that my water didn’t break as that was very impressive heaving indeed. I started laughing, and then promptly crying, shivering and chattering my teeth. Why, HELLO TRANSITION!
Somehow I ended up standing on BJB’s side of the bed, leaning on the ball. No idea how the ball got in the room. My contractions are now VERY intense, and with each one Natalie is doing this awesome hip squeeze maneuver while BJB crouches down and rubs my legs or back. My legs were starting to feel like lead, but I also felt “stuck” and couldn’t seem to move. I was getting the urge to start sinking my knees with each pressure wave, but also felt SO TIRED. I started BAWLING at this point and entered what I’ll call the “I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE!” phase. Natalie gave me a big hug and reassured me that it was time to push my baby out now and I would be holding him soon. I was sobbing that I needed to lie down but “…you aren’t supposed to lie down to push your baby out!” Natalie reminded me that I can do whatever my body was telling me to do and helped me lie down on my side. She asked to check me again, and said that she could see the baby but my bag of waters was bulging. I am dumbfounded that it still hasn’t broken yet. Natalie says that she knows I don’t want an AROM, but at this stage, it is very likely that it will help the baby “…slide right out” and may help relieve the pressure I am feeling. I agree, and again she warns me that it will be uncomfortable. It feels like a bucket of water has been thrown on me, and then… I fall asleep. I think I was asleep for maybe five minutes? I remember telling Natalie that I just need to rest for a few minutes, and she was stroking my hair and saying “Whenever you’re ready.” And then, I was READY.
I do not remember very much of this part, but I think it only lasted 15 minutes or so. I closed my eyes, grabbed the bed frame with one hand and BJB with the other. I can only describe it as riding the biggest rollercoaster in the park with your eyes closed – knowing that the ride is terrifying and exhilarating, and also that you are very safe and will pull back into the loading area very soon. The few things I do remember are thinking my sounds were getting very high, and I needed to go lower. That I needed to move into the sensation, not try to crawl away from it. That everything was very quiet. Then I remember saying “IT BURNS!” and feeling a warm cloth. After about 30 seconds I could hear BJB saying “SRB! Reach down! Pull him out!” and I grasped his shoulders and lifted him out onto my chest. He cried right away and started rooting for a breast, latching like a pro. I’ve never seen BJB’s face look quite like it did in that moment.
Our sweet boy was born.
For the next hour I held him on my chest while all the after birth things were happening. We have opted to collect cord blood for both of our children, so the cord needed to be clamped immediately rather than allowing pulsation to stop. Robynn (the senior midwife) helped Natalie learn how to do the collection, and then BJB jumped in to cut the cord. He did not get to do this with HGB, and this has been a source of disappointment for both us. It was very important to me that BJB do this as a symbol of our son becoming his own person, separate from me. In the time those procedures took, I had managed to birth my placenta with no active management at all. I became hyper-focused on the realization that I had not yet labelled a freezer bag for it, but Natalie assured us that it was no big deal. She showed me the organ as she checked it, using an amazing “Tree of Life” analogy as she went. I sort of…lost it here. Our plan is to plant MJB’s placenta under a seedling evergreen that my father potted for us when HGB was born in the backyard of our new home. But for now, it sits in a Zipl.oc bag next to my ice cube trays.
MJB was then weighed in a cloth bag hung from a fish scale. Rashmi (the baby’s midwife) looked him over, did the usual newborn tests and whatnot, and then gave him to BJB to hold. During this time I was checked (no tears!) and helped into bathroom to get cleaned up and into ye olde mesh panties. When I returned to our bedroom all the blue pads, equipment, and plastic sheeting had been cleared away, and our bed was all ready for us to crawl into. We chatted with the midwives for a few minutes, and they hugged us both before essentially tucking us in and bidding us adieu. They left shortly before midnight, and we lied down with our new son between us.
I wish I had the words to capture the power of this experience. It has touched every fibre of my being, every corner of my heart. I remarked to a dear friend a few days later that I felt like I had been hit by a truck, but also like I could pick that truck up and throw it. In this one night, so much of the weight of my first birth, my infertility, my pregnancy loss, my anger and sadness… it just became so light and drifted away. For me, this experience has been a tremendous healing force beyond my hopes or imagination. Our son was born on the very spot he was made, surrounded by love. Through this birth, I have be re-born as a more whole version of myself. I trust my body. I trust my partner. I trust myself. I am happy. We are so grateful for this perfect day.