My Birth Story.
Of all the insecurities in my life (as a first time mom, a wife, a woman, an athlete) the birth of my beautiful baby boy is not on that list and for that I am extremely proud. Maybe I was naïve, or perhaps I took all the confidence I knew I was worthy of and channeled it into my birth and my baby – whatever the case, I am sharing a positive birth story today. In my mind, that was my only option. I am going to acknowledge that what worked for me will not necessarily work for every new mom – but if you are reading this expecting your first baby any day, week, or month now, or expecting a 2nd/3rd/4th and hoping to change the narrative for your upcoming birth please know that you have options and that whatever you choose for your body and your baby will be the right decision. I will however encourage you to choose your options based on research and gut feeling rather than by following the norm, or out of fear. You do you, Mama.
My son was born at home in a birthing tub at 5:08pm on a Saturday in late fall/ early winter. By 6pm we were napping while my husband bbq’d steaks (lol!) and then we woke up, wandered to the kitchen for a snack and some cuddles with Daddy and then settled into bed for the night. As it turned out, my infant ‘snored’ which sounded like a bah-ing lamb so it was less peaceful than I had envisioned (read: very funny at times) but still blillful and ‘easy’. On occasion, if I am trying to downplay the birth, I will say we got lucky and maybe we did but I truly hold that day close to my heart and am really proud of how it all turned out.
To back up a little, you may be interested to know that I was about 41 weeks pregnant when my labour started. I had not told anyone our baby’s ‘due date’ and instead told them that we had a ‘birth window’ of “the first half of November”. That was my way of taking control over my birth. For whatever reason, I did not want texts on the due date asking whether I had had the baby yet and so that was a really great solution for me. I had read a zillion books as I’m sure most expecting moms do. I had also chosen my book list carefully, picking ones filled with positive stories of women’s bodies and how amazing and strong they are, of how women used to birth in the woods, or surrounded by other women who supported and guided them, or numerous other empowering ways. I read one ‘western medical’ birth book which outlined very well what appointments I would be expecting and the purpose of those (in our case, I declined all of the optional ones) but that was it. I clung to Ina May Gaskin and if I ever felt overwhelmed about the impending birth, I would youtube a particular talk she gave about birthing and a grapefruit. If you know, you know! She – her presence and her wisdom – were calming to me. I practiced embodying her courage for and of the female body during birth. I became grateful that I had birthing options and I used my options to the fullest.
I hired a team of Doulas and had a midwife. 1 additional midwife arrived right before baby was born (I assume this is standard). I had my husband there. And that was it. My mom (with 4 kids of her own all born without medical intervention or pain killers in a hospital setting) was not totally on board with a home delivery and though I love her dearly and we remain close, for that reason she was not invited to attend the birth. At one point she suggested that I “hire a Doctor to stand outside my bedroom door with a knife ‘just in case’” and it was then I knew that she was not the energy I wanted for my home birth. The rest is blurry and clear all at the same time.
Technically, my labour started the night before. I was decorating the Christmas tree and at 6pm when something deep in my body said “go to bed”. So at 6pm (my husband thought I had lost my mind) that is exactly what I did. I started waking up having to ‘pee’ regularly around 12am or 1 and had broken sleep the rest of the night. In the morning, my husband made his usual Saturday morning pancakes and then left to help a friend move. Around 10am I called my Doula asking her to come hang out with me because I was alone and was pretty sure this baby was coming. Husband – MIA – still moving. So she came and shortly after that I called my midwife and tricked her into coming (sorry, Lucia!). I had heard that the midwives would time you on the phone and they knew to come if you could not talk through a contraction. I had the contraction timer app going and knew intuitively what was happening but I could have quite happily spoken through the contractions at that point. I decided to be silent during the contractions so the midwife would know to come. It worked! She told me that she’d pack a bag, eat some lunch and then come (fair!). When she arrived for my ‘check’ her tone was friendly and light and it seemed as if she expected that she would go home soon and come back later. I should ask her (as I’m now working with her again because I am pregnant with my 2nd) if she remembers thinking she would be able to go home, and if so what made her think that. I’d like to think I was still pretty chilled out at that point and that played a role but who knows. I was almost 8cm dilated at the first check and she decided to stay. My waters had not broken (which was strangely my biggest fear around birth – apparently my mind thought that water coming out of my vagina was wayyyy scarier than a baby). From then on I think you could call what I had active labour (about 4 hours total). You could also call it an athletic endeavor, or ‘just another Saturday afternoon’ surrounded by some superhero women. Primarily, I was trying to keep my head out of the way of what my body knew intuitively to do.
Following my birth ‘plan’, I tried to lie on my bed listening to my hypnobirthing cd but that plan totally backfired and each time the recorded woman said “you are very calm” I’d get angry and annoyed and want to throw something straight at my laptop. So into the tub I went and I stayed there except to pee for the remainder of the birth. My Doula played soothing music (that I had forgotten to set up myself so thank goodness for her) and provided soft touch massage. She and my midwife were also excellent catches when it came to the 2 episodes of vomiting that ensued (it’s like they knew! Which I’m quite sure they did and had obviously had lots of practice). I was confident in my body partly because I had practiced this confidence, and also because I had practiced the physical aspect of labour.
As a competitive water skier I have practiced yoga, pilates, some meditation, weight lifting – you name it and I have tried it. I also have a Master’s Degree in Kinesiology so I totally dig the anatomy of birth. I wanted the oxytocin hormones to skyrocket and relax my body to prevent tearing amongst other stuff. I was secretly geeking out on all the ‘physiology’ stuff happening- but in a secondary way. Primarily, I was pacing myself because I did now know how long this would go on. And it was hard – the contractions were all encompassing. They were like a physical workout but with a twist. Historically when I work out and my trainer tells me “2 more!” and then I do 2 more and he says “that’s easy you can do 4 more!” yes of course it’s tough and I swear at him under my breath but I know in the back of my mind that I can quit when I want to. That I can put the weight down and walk away. That’s where my labour was different. I had gotten my brain out of the way of my body’s ability to birth, but that did not mean that I did not wish for the contraction to stop, or to slow down so I could have a rest. I have never experienced any physical act that I could not stop at a moment’s notice to take a break – until labour. I actually felt like a drama queen! I wanted to escape the room until my midwife reminded me that wherever I go, this baby and my body had to go with me. *sigh*
That’s also when I knew it was go time. I could reach down and feel my baby’s head, my midwife gave me permission to push and I went for it. More physical activity. Like a squat and a pull-up and 25 sit ups and a poop all at once. I may have been progressing with the pushing but in my opinion at that moment I was not getting anywhere. The pushing instinctively felt too hard. So I gave my midwife permission to break the waters sac and tried to push again. Success! My body liked that option much better and after a few more pushes timed with my contractions my son was born. (If you’ve been wondering whether my husband ever came home from moving the answer is yes. And then he sat nearby doing emails until the midwife had him hold the flashlight so we could see baby appear. It was all very “him” and in turn very “us” and we chuckle about that day still. His ability to remain calm, do what was needed (he made coffee for everyone around 3pm and kept topping up my bone broth that I was sipping on) and be there in his silent strong fashion is exactly what I needed).
I held my baby for some time in the birth tub, then we cut his cord and he went to his Dad for skin-to-skin and a brief look over by the midwife. He was diapered, blanketed (still skin to skin) and I was allowed to walk over into my bed. There, they weighed baby (if you’ve never seen an at-home weigh system think of a fish scale but instead of hanging baby by their lips as you would a fish, you wrap baby snug into a blanket and put the blanket ends onto the ‘fish’ scale (a scale on a spring). It’s (in my opinion) very funny and also genius. Baby was cozy and did not cry. The team checked me over, let us get cozy with some soup, pillows, blankets, (boobs out; I was going to let him do the crawl to the boob thing but then got impatient) and then left. It was surreal and cozy and everything that I had planned for even though I had no idea what to expect, really.
And that’s that! Of course there are zillions more details that I wrote down shortly after the birth that I like to look back on but those would take forever. Hopefully the takeaway is that every pregnant person’s body is wonderful. Science and medical teams are also wonderful and everyone’s narrative will be different but regardless of your birth plan, setting, team, know that your body is strong. Your body was meant for this and at the end of your delivery you get to see your baby for the very first time. I was told so many scary birth stories which I had not asked for whatsoever. Women seem to want to share their experiences whatever they may be and I do think the sharing comes from a place of love. Try to remember the stories that inspired you, or gave you hope or some courage in yourself. You can write your narrative even if you end up going with Plan A, B, or C. You’ve got this, Mama.