My first ever blog post…. I thought the best way to start out would be to tell the two events in my life that have had the biggest impact on who I am: The birth of my two children, whom I’ll call Rosie and Ethan in this story.
My husband and I were married in fall of 2007, and, after a few months of waiting and trying, I became pregnant with our daughter. I then did what I thought all women did: went straight to the family doctor to confirm the pregnancy and start the regiment of appointments for the next 8-9 months. I got a referral to an obstetrician, and started the usual maternity care; hours of sitting in the waiting room, watching Disney movies, 15-20 minutes in the office, waiting for the doctor, and finally seeing the doctor for 5-10 minutes, “Any questions?” with her hand on the door knob, except for the appointments with internal examinations. All the routine tests, screens and examinations were done (except amniocenteses, since we were young and not worried about genetic problems) , after all, this was just what you did while pregnant!
When I was 14 weeks pregnant, while on a road trip, we stopped overnight, and I discovered I was bleeding. We rushed to Emergency and after waiting all night (I guess I wasn’t bleeding heavily enough) we found out through ultrasound that the placenta had started to separate from the wall of the uterus, and then stopped, and was starting to heal. The rest of the pregnancy was uneventful and at 39 weeks and 2 days, in November 2008 I went in for what would be my last appointment.
While doing an internal exam, the obstetrician announced that I was 80% effaced and 2 cm dilated and she was going to do a sweep, which she proceeded to do as she talked about it. That evening, my contractions, which had been happening off and on for the past week, seemed to be a little more regular than normal, but weren’t painful, so we went to bed. The contractions woke me at 3 am and I woke my husband at 4 to get ready to go to the hospital. I still didn’t feel that they were that bad, but since I was GBS (Group B Streptococcus) positive, I had been told that I needed to get antibiotics before labor picked up.
We got to the hospital around 5 am and I was hooked up to the monitors. I was still only 4cm dilated but because of the GBS, I was admitted and hooked up to an IV to receive the antibiotics. Thirty minutes later, after the antibiotics were done, my husband and I were able to walk the halls while a room was being fixed up for me. A couple hours later, after some walking and time in the shower, my contractions changed to being pushy. I was asked to go back on the bed and my nurse checked me: I was 9.5cm, allowed to push! My obstetrician was on a rotation shift and wouldn’t be delivering my baby, the doctor on rotation came in to check on me. The nurse tried to break my water but it wouldn’t break for her and she called in the doctor, he tried with his hand then used a little hook, saying it might feel strange, the waters broke for him and told me to go ahead and push. After watching me go through one contraction, he decided I would “be a while” so he left the room. After my water was broken, I had 3 contractions, about 6 to 8 minutes apart instead of 1 or 2 minutes, at which point the nurse declared that I needed the drip (Oxytocin), to get contractions moving again. I protested but she replied that I would be there “all day” if I didn’t get the drip. She ordered the drip, but shortly after my contractions picked up again. My daughter was born within the hour(just before 10 am), before the drip and the doctor made it to the room!
Some memories stand out to me about her birth, like not being allowed to do what my body wanted to (make noise, change position), lying on my back, interventions being done to me without permission or informed consent, being told to shut up and push the baby out. Rosie came out quickly, there was no ‘burning’ sensation, no easing the head out and as a result I tore badly. However I also remember being thrilled that we had a baby, I was finally a mother (my dream since I was just a small girl) and I couldn’t wait to hold her and know her.
Hubby cut the cord, and announced our baby was a girl, and Rosie was immediately whisked off to the table to be suctioned, cleaned up and weighed. She was given vitamin K, and the antibiotics in her eyes. I could hear her crying and craned my neck to see her. “She’s fine”, said the nurse “We’ll bring her to you in a minute”. Finally I was able to hold her, all bundled up, and gazed in her eyes. I didn’t think about it in the moment of birthing, but I don’t remember even seeing Rosie before she was cleaned and bundled by the nurses. I remember looking at pictures later that my hubby had took of her laying naked on the scale and thinking how alone and scared she looked. It still brings tears to my eyes! She should’ve been snuggled up to me, nursing!
The doctor came in shortly and after a brief conversation with the nurse and the resident who was stitching me up, he gave an experimental tug on the umbilical cord and informed us that the placenta wasn’t coming out so I would have to go in to get it manually removed(even though there was no excessive bleeding). This was about 20 minutes after my baby was born and I hadn’t moved, nor nursed her yet, but I was wheeled away to the operating room and put under general anesthetic. They removed the placenta and finished stitching me up.
I was finally returned to my husband and hungry newborn 2 hours later and I struggled (but succeeded) to breastfeed her. Later that day I had a catheter put in, after nearly fainting while using the washroom. The catheter was taken out the next day, and I went home 2 days after my daughters birth, to begin the long process of recovery.
The first week was agony; breastfeeding hurt, I had intense abdominal pain, and I was very emotional. Fortunately I had support from my husband, who took paternal leave. I remember when Rosie was one week old, trying to nurse her in my bedroom(company had stopped by for the evening) and crying because nursing hurt so bad, I was in pain because of the infection and I felt awful! This wasn’t how I had imagined life with a new baby to be like! The next day, my hubby insisted he take me to the hospital because of the pain and I found out that I had a bad bladder infection (due to the catheter). I was put on antibiotics and sent home. Breastfeeding did click eventually, it took about 4 weeks or so. Recovery was slow, and even at my 6 week appointment (the only time during postpartum that I saw my obstetrician) I was told I still needed to wait a couple weeks before resuming normal activities.
Basically my body was very traumatized by the birth, but it was normal to feel traumatized after birth, right? At least I thought so. It was my first birth after all, and I thought that everyone knew that birthing a baby was a horrible experience. In my circle of family and friends, we all thought that afterwards it is all good because you have your baby, that was all that mattered: a “healthy baby and healthy mom”.
Just over a year later, a friend of mine had her second baby in a birthing pool at home, and encouraged me to do some research about it, starting with watching The Business of Being Born which we did. We did as she suggested, mostly because I was so surprised that she, an (almost) registered nurse who did everything much more medically than I did up to this point, would even consider a home birth! This started us on the journey of actually doing research about birthing options, and by the time we were done, we were determined to have our next baby at home if at all possible!
In September of 2010 I realized I was pregnant again! We were thrilled and quickly contacted all the midwives in our area to try and get in with one. However, all of them turned me down at first, no one had room. We were so disappointed and neither of us wanted to go the doctor-hospital route again! We began discussing the possibility of having no medical help at all (an idea I wasn’t completely comfortable with) or doing all the prenatal care and then “oops”, not making it to the hospital in time, and having the baby at home. However, before we got too far in our research and planning, one of the midwife practices contacted us and said they had an opening. So we were back on track for our natural homebirth!
What I found most striking about the difference in prenatal care between a doctor and the midwives was the responsibility for the health of myself and my child was consistently placed in my hands by the midwives. Nutrition and healthy lifestyle habits were a focus of our 1-2 hour group sessions in the early months, and when an issue came up, options were discussed with me, both the medical option and some natural alternatives. I remember being told on more than one occasion to, “Do the research and tell us what you decide”. It was both freeing and a little scary to have that responsibility, rather than just being told what will happen, or what to do.
I declined some of the routine procedures, including the ultrasound (the only reason we were going to do it was to find out the sex of the baby!) and the glucose screen. I tested GBS positive again, and so the question came up, should we have the antibiotics for the home birth? Again, I was told to do the research, and after we looked at all the risk factors for GBS and benefits and risks of the antibiotics, we decided not to do the antibiotics. We also declined the antibiotics in the eyes and the vitamin K shot. I began drinking nettle tea (a.k.a. cow food tea) to help my iron and vitamin K levels, as well as all the other benefits nettle tea has. After 39 weeks, I added red raspberry leaf tea in hopes of getting things going a little faster. I also didn’t have any vaginal exams during pregnancy or labor. I would’ve had to request an internal exam with my midwives who were very non invasive, and when I tested GBS again, we decided not to do any vaginal exams.
I had contractions off and on for a good 2 weeks before my son was born. It was a little frustrating at times, since I was GBS positive and was declining the antibiotics, there would be no internal exams, so I didn’t know if the contractions were doing anything! However, the evening before Ethan was born, my intuition told me the birth would be with in the next night and day, so I finished up most of the food preparations for our snacks during and after the birth.
The day of Ethan’s birth in May of 2011, I continued to have contractions off and on, but they were becoming a lot more regular, and a little more painful. Finally at about 2pm, my husband noticed that I was stopping my activities each time I had a contraction and suggested we call the midwives. I was still not thinking that it was that serious yet and put it off until after I had put my daughter down for a nap and done a few more preparations. I finally called them about an hour later.
I finished up all the birthing preparations, bringing out the towels and setting things up while hubby finished filling the birthing pool. Our midwife and student arrived at about 3:45pm and started their setup. I was in the pool but at the midwife’s suggestion, got out and walked around for a while. I remember overhearing her talking on the phone to the backup midwife, telling her to take her time, that I would be a while. I was having a contraction at the time, but I smiled inside—those words were familiar!
Sure enough after some walking up and down our stairs (Rosie was awake by this time and came with us) I got back into the pool, Rosie insisted on joining me, while my hubby stayed outside. Throughout my contractions, which were getting more and more pushy, I was able to vocalize, choose my own position (on my knees leaning on the side of the pool, holding onto hubby’s hands) and I could move around as needed. I often felt Rosie’s little hand on my back along with hubby’s or the midwives, and in between contractions, Rosie and I splashed a bit and talked a little about the baby soon arriving. Just as I was beginning to feel like these contractions were getting awfully painful, I realized that I could actually feel the head descending, and soon the midwife was encouraging me to “breathe the baby out” and her student asked if I wanted to feel the baby’s head. I always thought I would, but when the moment came, I felt like I just couldn’t let go of hubby, or I would lose it.
One contraction and my water broke, then the next contraction the head was out, then in another contraction the body, and my son floated in the water a moment before being passed between my legs to me and I sat back against the pool side to pull him out of the water and hold him. Ethan was born at 5:08pm, only an hour and a half after the midwives arrived. My husband noticed right away how calm he was as he rested against my chest after his birth. No screaming and crying but just calmly nestled into me, he seemed to almost go to sleep, and only got upset when he was pulled slightly away from me a little later for the cord to be cut.
After passing my son to my husband for some skin to skin with daddy, I birthed the placenta with no problems, the midwife suggested I squat again, and the placenta came with little effort. That was when I felt that I really could do it, my body did know what it was doing, and could birth a child without all the interventions that have become so normal in today’s society. It was an empowering feeling.
The postpartum period was like night and day in comparison to after Rosie’s birth. I had to make myself take it easy, reminding myself that I did just have a baby and I needed to relax. It was difficult when I felt so good, to just let the chores be, and not do too much, but I did notice my flow increase a bit when I did expend too much energy. Breastfeeding Ethan has been a breeze, except for a little too much milk for the first few days after it came in. Ethan nursed for the first time right after I birthed the placenta and climbed out of the pool, he nursed for a good hour and didn’t want to stop. I have been much more stable emotionally as well and I am so thankful to have such a quick recovery this time around. I believe my emotional stability was partly due to the home birth but also due to having the placenta encapsulated. During the first 4 to 6 weeks, if I didn’t take 3 placenta pills twice a day, but skipped a day, I really noticed the difference by the evening of the skipped day. I would be SOOO tired and weepy feeling. The postpartum care was also different. Instead of one 6 week check up, I had 3 home visits from the midwife during the first week, and office visits at 1, 3 and 6 weeks postpartum. The midwives also encourage me to phone them if there was any problems and they would come see me. It was amazing to be cared for so well!
As we look back on the two births, we know that, unless necessitated by an emergency, we would never want to go back to a doctor-hospital birth experience. Our home birth left us with an exhilarating feeling, it was almost unreal to think that we’d actually done it, ourselves, at home! The midwives were there too, offering guidance and giving just the right touch when needed, or a sip of water, their intuition to what I needed when I couldn’t ask for it was right on. Years of experience I’m sure! Yet even with the midwives there, we were left with the feeling that we had done it ourselves, it was our love and our little family that helped bring our son into this world. It was just as one of our midwives said, “Birthing is like driving down a dark winding mountain road, we’re along on the trip to help you read the signs, but you are the one driving the car!”