How this story came to be:
As I began to write the words just stared coming to me, and I started to write things I didn’t even realize that I remembered. The memories came in waves and the words just kept flowing onto the page. Perhaps it is because her birth was so wonderful and peaceful; perhaps it is because I did not have any pain-relief medication. Whatever the reason, I remembered the most minute details of the day of her birth, and so I kept writing.
I wrote for me, so that I would always remember the most profound event of my life. I wrote for Isabella, so that she would have a record of the day she was born, of how eagerly we anticipated her arrival, of how much we loved her. I wrote for all the women out there who are anticipating an upcoming birth, so that they could know how incredibly beautiful and magical an experience this can be and in hopes that they would seek out such an experience for themselves.
The Home Waterbirth of Isabella Charlotte Rose
Part One: In The Wee Hours of The Morning
My first contraction woke me around 2:20am on Wednesday, September 19th, 2001 - 9 days past my estimated due date (a very long, drawn out nine days). I could tell right away that this was different than the Braxton Hicks I had been experiencing with increasing frequency over the past several months. For the next two hours I continued to have mild contractions, but they ranged anywhere from 20 minutes to a mere 5 minutes apart, and they were jumping all over the place. I recalled the oft-repeated advice from all corners (especially from my midwife P.) that if labour began in the middle of the night the wisest thing to do was return to peaceful slumber, and keep resting up for the hard work ahead. Despite this, I found it impossible to sleep. Instead I was watching the clock with an expectant hand resting on my abdomen, wondering when the next contraction would hit. 15 minutes, 8 minutes, 11 minutes, 20 minutes; two hours passed quickly as I watched, waited and wondered. Could this possibly be the real thing?
Around 4am I realized that further sleep was impossibility, and my constant tossing and turning had been keeping Sam awake. Still not totally sure that this was real labour, I figured that I had better leave my cozy bed and let Sam sleep just in case. If this was it, I knew I would need him to be well rested later. I got up and grabbed my journal and my watch and headed downstairs. I began to write about all my feelings and emotions and started timing contractions; recording them in my journal so I would have the memory forever. One of my dogs curled by my side on the sofa as I began to write about how I was feeling.
From my journal:4:22am
I am partly excited, party fighting excitement (in case this is not the real thing) and partly afraid of what is to come. After all this time, and all the waiting, could today really be the day I meet my baby? It seems somehow unreal; I keep expecting it to all stop and to go back to bed and wait some more.
Well it looks like the day has finally arrived; you should be here with us very soon. We have many hours of hard work ahead, but in the end we will be holding you in our arms, and all the hard work and long months of waiting will be so worth it. I cannot wait to meet you little one. To finally hold you and kiss you. My love for you is eternal. Love, Your Mother
By 5am the contractions were consistently five minutes apart and lasting a little over a minute each; this was the real thing!! I decided to call P. (our midwife) and wake her up. She sleepily answered the phone and I told her things were finally happening. She said she was sending K. (her apprentice) over to check and see how I was doing and told me to call if I needed to. I spent the next hour on my own just dealing with the contractions. I walked (or rather paced) in endless circles, around the kitchen table and island, around the perimeter of the living room and back again. I found a pattern in my breath, breathing deeply in and then out with an open-mouthed 'Ahhhh' sound that was very comforting and peaceful. Each time I made the sound I felt as if I was releasing the pain and tension, each inhalation brought me renewed focus and strength. In my memory this was a very quiet and serene time, and very important in allowing me to focus and mentally prepare for what was yet to come. The contractions were uncomfortable and very tight, but all I had to do to get through one was close my eyes and focus on my breath.
K. arrived around 6am and we talked a little about what I was experiencing. She checked my pulse and tried to check my blood pressure; but her blood pressure cuff was not working. She listened to the baby and joked that despite all her earlier predictions of a girl, she was thinking maybe this baby was a boy; it was moving so strongly. I told her there were lots of strong girls out there, and she had to admit I was right. She left shortly afterwards, having given me instructions to eat something high in protein and carbohydrates to keep my energy up and to get some rest if I could. I fixed myself an English muffin with peanut butter (which K. said was good because it would take a long time to digest). I ate my breakfast and went to rouse Sam. I could still hardly believe that today was the day, but as this seemed to be the case I thought it was time to wake the Daddy-to-be.
I headed upstairs to wake Sam and let him know that my labour had officially begun. He seemed a little confused at first. Still in a sleep induced haze and not seeming to understand that this was really it, my dear husband even asked if he should still head into work that morning. I quickly let him know, in no uncertain terms, that this was not going to happen. We spent the next few hours quietly together in our bedroom, keeping an eye on the length of time separating the contractions and relaxing together. Sam quickly learned that I could not tolerate any talking during my contractions, and that rubbing my belly (which I thought I would love) was something I could not stand.
Part II: Clearing Out The House and Losing Control
Soon we heard the household start to stir, my father was awake (my parents and sister had traveled from Canada to be with us) and I went downstairs to let him know that he would be a Grampie sometime today. He woke my mother and I went in to rouse my sister. Soon everyone was up and excited; the air of anticipation in the house was palpable. Today the first member of a new generation of our family would enter the world. And what a lucky baby, to be born into such a loving, fun and tightly knit clan. Despite my joy at having my family nearby during such a monumental occasion, I was quite relieved that we had made arrangements for a hotel just the day before. As much as I loved my family I was really craving privacy and an empty house to experience labour and the birth of our baby. As I had anticipated, their presence made me feel somewhat self-conscious and inhibited and I sensed I was somehow holding back.
Sam and I again retreated to our bedroom as my family began preparations to head out. Throughout this time my contractions remained at about 5 minutes apart and while they ranged from mildly to moderately painful, they were nothing I couldn't handle. Each time I felt the tightening sensations that signified the beginning of another contraction I would just stop what I was doing, close my eyes, and breathe. I told Sam that I would be fine on my own (and I really believed it) and sent him off to help my family get settled in at the nearby hotel where they would anxiously await word of the birth.
For some time after everyone had departed things remained steady, with no real increase in the strength or duration of the contractions. During the reprieve between contractions I checked my email, read a novel and walked around the house. At this point just stopping and breathing was all I needed to do to get through the discomfort. I thought of emailing or calling people to let them know that labour had begun, but decided that I felt like keeping these moments quiet and private. I remember at this point feeling very centered and connected to my breath and to my body and focused on trying to enjoy my last few hours of pregnancy; little did I know just how quickly things would change.
From my journal: 10:47am
Contractions are still for the most part about 5 minutes apart. They seem to be getting a little more painful but I think I am dealing with them a bit better than in the beginning, because I know more what to expect and can stay of top of them a little more. I am still afraid of how bad it will get, if I can make it through. It's so unknown and there is no way to really prepare. I can't believe that by the end of the day I should be holding my baby!
At some point during the two hours Sam was away, my labour very rapidly increased in intensity. I had started to get anxious because Sam had been away so long, and shortly thereafter my contractions suddenly jumped much closer together. For hours I had been experiencing moderately strong contractions every five minutes, now they were much stronger and separated by a span of only 30 seconds. I was no longer able find my focus or to maintain a good breathing pattern and would start to mildly panic during each contraction. With less than a minute until the next contraction hit, I found myself unable to regroup and prepare - and quickly lost the serenity and focus that had carried me thus far. I tried to distract myself from the pain by reading my novel or email - but these diversions were no longer effective, the pain and intensity of the contraction required all the concentration I could muster.
I remember making high-pitched noises, breathing very quickly and moaning loudly as each wave of pain overtook my body. My body was tense and tight and my thoughts felt very scattered. My dogs were even aware of the change, and became quite upset. They of course did not understand what was occurring, and both stayed close by my side as if to offer their support as the pain continued to worsen. Finally, two hours after he left, Sam arrived back home. By this point I was near hysterics and almost in tears during each contraction. At some point I had lost any semblance of control, and without someone there to help me regain my balance I had been unable to stay on top of the contractions that were rolling through me in waves. Now, instead of being in control of my labour experience, it was controlling me. I quickly asked my dear husband to call P. right away and have her come over; I knew I needed help to get back on track. It was only 12:30pm and I didn't think I was going to need her quite that soon, but felt relieved as soon as I knew she was on her way.
Sam helped me calm down a little, just his presence was a reassuring and soothing influence and I slowly began to relax. He stayed with me until I felt as If I had somewhat recovered. Although I was still having a hard time I wanted him to start getting things ready, especially ensuring that the pool (a three ring, inflatable kiddies pool which we filled from a hose connected to our tap) was blown up and ready to go when we needed it. As a result I was still sort of on my own. I was doing better with the contractions but had still not regained the serenity that had stayed with me for most of the morning. I knew that in order to enjoy my labour I needed to work to find some relaxation and breathing techniques that were effective for me.
A short while later P. arrived, and I don't believe I had ever been so overjoyed to see anyone in my life! She took some time to show me how to breathe. Taking a deep breath in through my nose, blowing the breath out through my mouth, taking twice as long to exhale as to inhale, I slowly began to find my center again. Each time I exhaled I concentrated on blowing the pain away and felt my mind growing clearer. As I slowed my breathing it also seemed to slow me down internally so that the contractions were back to between two and three minutes apart. P. also instructed me to try and keep my body relaxed as much as possible during the contractions. Until then I had been unconsciously lifting my lower body off the couch with my arms and keeping my muscles very tense, with my shoulders drawn up and my whole body tightened. It was difficult, but the more relaxed I managed to keep myself, the easier the contractions were to deal with. In my chart for this time period P. has noted that my contractions were moderate in intensity. I beg to differ; they certainly felt strong to me!
As things continued to slow down I began to feel rather silly and embarrassed that I had called for help so soon. P. explained that it is not unusual for stress to cause labour to speed up and now that Sam had returned and she had arrived, I was feeling calmer and my body was relaxing as well. In retrospect, I don't think that the pain was actually as bad or the contractions really as strong as they seemed at the time. Based on how quickly I responded to help from Sam and P. I believe that my difficulty stemmed more from emotional and mental stress than from the physical effects of labour. I had read so often during my pregnancy about the fear/pain connection, and having experienced it first-hand I can attest to the power of this cycle.
At this point P. also asked if I wanted her to check my dilation. It was left up to me to decide if I wanted any internal exams or not; but at this point I was quite curious to see how far along I was. It was close to 1:30 and I had already been in labour for 11 hours, although only the last few had been truly difficult. I really wanted to know if I had progressed very far. Between contractions P. had me lie back on the sofa and did the exam. It was not too uncomfortable and was over quickly. We were all very excited to learn that I was already three centimeters dilated, 98% effaced and -1 station. P. really wanted me to go to the bathroom; I had some mild diarrhea in the early morning hours, but had not emptied my bladder since then. I tried, but for some reason was unable to go. After nine months of peeing every 15 minutes, this seemed highly amusing and almost unbelievable!
Sam was still rushing around working on getting the pool ready and set up - so I just sat on the couch and with P.'s help breathed through the contractions. I was so glad now that I was dealing with things so much better than I had been a short time ago. Even though each contraction was still quite painful, I felt re-energized and ready to continue and savor each moment of the experience as best as I could.
Part III: Up the Stairs We Go
Around 2:00pm P. suggested we head upstairs and try getting into the shower to help relieve some of the pain of contractions. I made it upstairs as far as the toilet in our master bath and tried once more to empty my bladder, again no luck. In my mind, after nine months of peeing every 15 minutes, this seemed less a cause for concern and more of a welcome break! While on the toilet a contraction hit and I found that, much to my surprise, this location worked for me. In all the beautiful images of labour that I had created in my head, nowhere did my toilet appear. I had heard of many women labouring on the toilet but never imagined I would be one of them. However, despite how odd it might have looked or seemed, I finally felt as if I had found my place and stubbornly resisted all suggestions to move, even to try out the shower. I was staying put; at least for the time being.
When I think back to this time, the actual memory of the contractions are very dim. I can recall all the other minute details of the day so vividly; but the contractions and the physical experience of labour itself are already fuzzy in my mind. The contractions were definitely hard, they were painful and they were difficult to endure. The rhythmic and involuntary squeezing of my uterine muscles was unlike anything I had ever experienced and it seems that the reality of the sensations cannot be captured in mere words. It is an all-encompassing physical experience, but also such a mental and emotional time. After many attempts, the ability to separate and describe just one of these aspects still eludes me.
As intense as the contractions were, I don't recall feeling diminished by the pain. Rather, I felt empowered, determined, and exhilarated by it. With my dear husband and my incredible support team of midwives at my side, I could have moved mountains if that is what it would have taken to bring my baby to this world. Labour has an incredible physicality that defies escape, although there were times when I defiantly sought a reprieve from the seemingly unending onslaught of contractions. Going through this without pain relief brought a brutal honesty to the experience. I was forced to be present with all five senses; there was no hiding from any of the sensations. Labour was a highly sensory experience, everything was heightened and intensified, and yet at the same time I often felt as if I existed on a separate plane from everyone and everything else.
For me, this was also part of the gift of a natural labour; the ability to experience the entire event without my senses impaired or diminished. I believe the pain of labour is instructive and purposeful. It keeps you in touch with your body, with the processes occurring within it, and lets you instinctively know what is right and wrong. Not only was I completely present within each moment, but in some strange way I also felt in touch with all women in the world giving birth at that moment, and all the mothers that came before me, giving me the wisdom and knowledge to light my way. I hope that in telling my story I will pass on some bit of wisdom to mothers yet to be, and give them the strength and courage to experience labour in its entirety.
Strangely enough, it is my experience of a completely drug free labour that gives me a new understanding of why so many women take pain relief in the hospital. I have always been very committed to a natural birth, as I steadfastly believe that it is best for the baby and myself. Having experienced (and lived to describe) a natural labour and delivery I remain ever more committed to these beliefs. It is my conviction that an un-medicated birth is, without a doubt, the best possible and safest scenario. However, after having experienced labour firsthand, I can now better understand how a woman labouring in the hospital may end up accepting pain relief, even if she had spent nine months resolutely planning a natural delivery. It was difficult to go through pain of that magnitude and intensity, even with the level of support that was given to me. In a less supportive situation (with a nurse or doctor constantly offering to take the pain away) one would have to be very strong, both physically and mentally, to refuse.
For the first little after we moved upstairs Sam continued to run around, getting things set up and ready and working on assembling and filling the birth pool. Finally, having had enough quite enough alone time, I told P. that I needed him to be with me. P. had been a wonderful help, but I wanted my husband! She laughed and said his response was very typical of a father-to-be. She explained that most men are 'fixers' by nature. All of a sudden their wives go into labour and they find themselves a central player in what is, for the most part, an uncontrollable situation. With their previously well-ordered world turned upside down, they tend occupy their time taking care of concrete things, thereby giving themselves the illusion of control. Sitting still and watching the woman you love experience pain is not even remotely concrete, and no matter how prepared or devoted it leaves most men feeling more than a little off balance. Thankfully, once requested (or ordered) my dear husband handed his tasks over to the midwives and came to be with me, I felt better almost immediately just having him near.
Shortly afterward, around 2:30pm, I began to get curious as to how far along I had progressed. I surprised myself by asking P. to do another internal exam. Throughout the late part of my pregnancy I had been very curious to know if anything was happening, constantly wondering if my body had begun it's preparation for labour. Despite this never-ending curiosity, I refused every time P. offered to do an internal exam. My thought was that it would make the waiting worse either way (if I hadn't dilated I would be disappointed, if I had I would really get impatient for things to happen). I preferred the hands off approach favored by my midwife, in order to let my body and my pregnancy move on it's own schedule.
Now that I was in active labour and had been experiencing contractions for so many hours, I was very eager to know if all this pain and hard work was getting me anywhere. Again, P. waited until a contraction had subsided and did a quick internal exam. Suddenly her face took on a look surprise and she told me, with some astonishment, that I was six centimeters dilated, stretching to seven with a contraction, 100% effaced and at 0 station! I could hardly believe it, three centimeters in just over an hour was better than I hoped, now that felt like real progress! Because things had moved so quickly in such a short amount of time, I began expecting that the birth of my baby would not be horribly far away. I felt a renewed burst of enthusiasm and strength at the thought of how close I was to meeting this baby.
Contractions continued to be tough, but I felt as if was doing quite well getting through them. Around this time I got hit with several bouts of nausea strong enough that I vomited what little I had been reminded to eat and drink. I felt pretty awful. The midwives basically stayed in the background, coming in periodically to check on me or bring me food and drinks to help me stay strong and meet the challenges that lay ahead. I knew they were available whenever I needed them, but they mostly left Sam and I alone to work through the contractions.
Whenever I started to get off-track, when I would lose the pattern of breathing, or my vocalizations would get high pitched, Sam would look into my eyes and loudly breath with me to help me find my center again. At times the contraction were so intense I could not concentrate to hold his gaze, during these moments I instead retreated internally, focusing on the sound of my breath and Sam's flowing together; in and out, in and out. He would rub my legs and apply wet cloths to cool me off. He was so strong for me; I think my love for him grew a thousand-fold that day. Going through such a highly emotional and physical event with Sam gave me a whole new appreciation of his goodness and strength. I am thankful every day that I have a husband like him by my side through labour and through life. Throughout the nine months of pregnancy we found our relationship continually growing stronger, but this experience bonded us in an entirely new way.
Dealing with contractions was a very internal thing for me. I was not, for the most part, very loud or vocal; although there were certainly times when the pain got the better of me and I cried out or moaned loudly. As labour continued to intensify, I would I would close my eyes and retreat to my own inner world with each contraction. As I breathed slowly in and out, I would drop my head back and roll it from side to side until the contraction ended. I don't remember ever feeling like I couldn't do it anymore, and in moments of weakness I tried to remind myself that each contraction I experienced brought me closer to meeting my baby. I do distinctly remember wishing that things could just slow down for a little while. At one point I actually asked, only partially joking, if we could just arrange a little break in the process so I could gather my strength. Of course the answer was no, this was one request that could not be met. At the time I was feeling quite tired, and remember thinking that all I would need was a 15-minute reprieve to gather my reserves and I could continue again. Fortunately I had Sam and my midwives to get me through - at no point was I left alone to cope by myself. I always had the loving support of the four people who were present, giving me strength, wiping my face with a cold cloth, and whispering words of encouragement when I needed them most. Every so often one of the midwives would come into the bathroom and deliver much needed sustenance in the form of juice, cheese and crackers, peanut butter (and once even chocolate ice cream). It is so difficult to eat even when you know you must, it is so hard to concentrate on something as mundane and every day as hunger when you are going through something so profound and life altering as labour.
Some time later, around 3:45pm, I requested that P. check me again, almost expecting her to say I was just about ready to push. I knew by the look on her face this time that I was not going to like the news, and I was right. After an hour and 15 minutes I was still only 6 centimeters dilated, and now had a swollen cervical lip that was interfering with the descent of the baby's head. This may have been partly due to the fact that I had stayed in the same position for so long, causing the baby's head to press against my cervix and leading to swelling. My overly full bladder may have also contributed to the situation, either way it was very discouraging news to receive. The pool was almost ready to go and P. wanted me to get in and labour on my hands and knees. This position would best relieve the pressure of the baby's head on my cervix and possibly alleviate the swelling, allowing labour to progress once more. I was disappointed and disheartened; this is the only point that I remember feeling negative about the process and slightly angry with my body for not co-operating. I was reluctant to move, but knew that I needed to reign in my negative train of thought and approach this unexpected challenge with as much optimism as I could muster.
Part IV: Into The Pool
I distinctly remember the sensation of sinking into the warm water; it felt like immediate release. As the water swirled around my swollen belly, I felt the tense and tired muscles throughout my body just relaxing. It was as if my entire body let out a huge entire sigh - "Ahhhhhh" - and I momentarily experienced complete relief. The bottom of the pool was padded and quite comfortable, and in the hands and knees position I was able rest my head comfortably against the side of the pool. Unfortunately this respite lasted only a few seconds and the next contraction hit me all too soon. I assumed the hands and knees position and was immediately hit by very severe lower back pain. The back pain was much worse than any of my contractions had been up until this point, and I cried out in agony.
It quickly got very difficult to maintain control, to keep breathing and not scream out each time the contraction started and the back pain began anew. I began to dread the abdominal tightening that signaled an impending contraction, because I knew the intense back pain would not be far behind. I really needed all the help available to me now - constant reminders to focus on my breathing, and someone to calm me down and bring me back to my pattern. Each time a contraction hit, Sam and one of the midwives would apply counter pressure and massage my back, while P. attempted to hold back my cervix in order to allow the baby's head descend properly and to prevent further swelling. The back massage helped immensely, they poured olive oil on my back and as soon as a contraction began I would call out and two strong pairs of hands would begin their soothing work. I remember needing so much of my focus to get through. I had no idea whose hands they were kneading my muscles, just that they were there whenever I needed them. This was by far the most difficult and painful part of my labour experience to endure.
Despite P.'s continued efforts, the swelling was just not going down, and this continued to impede my progress. It seemed to take forever, but in reality it only took about an hour for things to start progressing again. It was so discouraging to have had things move so quickly in the beginning and then have the progress of my labour halted by something so beyond my control. I wanted to change positions so badly, to end the back pain, but I knew that in order to move forward and become completely dilated I had to remain where I was. By 4: 30pm the contractions were coming every two minutes and I had dilated to 7 centimeters. At 4:50pm I was dilated to 8 centimeters and 10 minutes later I had gained one more centimeter. The cervical lip still remained at his point, but I was so encouraged that progress was being made that I tried to be positive. This by far seemed like the longest and most difficult part of my labour, both because of the physical pain but also because emotionally and mentally I was very drained and disappointed. I felt as if the flow of my labour had been interrupted and I found it difficult to regain the focus and serenity that had been such a blessing to me through most of my labour.
At 5:10pm P. told me she was pretty sure my water had broken during my last contraction. I don't remember feeling anything, and because my body was immersed in water it was hard to tell for sure. I don't actually recall anyone telling me I was fully dilated, although it is documented in my birth record at 5:20pm. P. had told me earlier to let her know when I had the urge to push. Shortly after my waters broke I felt the involuntary urge, and without meaning to I was already giving little pushes during each contraction. It was such an overwhelming sensation, as if everything in my body was concentrated on one thing. I felt as if I would be powerless to fight the urge and was glad when, at 5:25pm, P. said the swelling had gone down and I could begin to push. I was so excited - finally I could actively work towards bringing my baby into the world. Up till that point my body had been working hard (and mentally labour is hard work because of the struggle to say in control of the pain) but it is all so involuntary that there is this sense of waiting and immobility. With the ability to push came a renewed vigor and energy. Now we were really getting somewhere!
Part V: The Hard Work Really Begins
As I contemplate this stage of my labour, I am again struck by the difference between my experience and the mainstream medical births I saw portrayed in movies and on television shows like "A Baby Story". It took some time to figure out exactly how to push, but I absolutely loved this stage of labour after I got the hang of things. For the first little while R. used her hand to show me how and where to focus my pushing efforts; I found it extremely helpful to have something concrete to push against. However, aside from this gentle aid, nobody told me how to push, when to push, or for how long. Nobody counted in my ear, instructed me when to stop and start, or told me to hold my breath. I was given help, assistance and encouragement when I need it. I was reminded to breath during my contractions, but the only other advice I was given was to listen to my body. Inside I already instinctively knew exactly what I needed to do. I have never felt more in tune with myself, more aware of my body's signals. When the urge hit, I would push as long and hard as felt right at the time. Nobody was "delivering" my baby, she was simply and gently being born. I felt as if Sam, the baby and I were working in unison, already a team, already a family. The baby's powerful life force rushed through me with each contraction, and it was stronger than anything I had ever experienced. Now was the time to let go of all preconceived ideas and notions and give myself up to the awe and wonder of the event. This stage was at once incredibly empowering and completely humbling. My role in this event was so vitally important, yet in the grand scheme of things, so completely minor.
Sam was right there with me the entire time; he was such a wonderful support and gave me strength when I needed it most. The midwives gave me the encouragement I needed to trust in myself and in my ability to deliver my baby. My body worked beautifully in conjunction with the baby, doing the hard work of labour just as nature had intended. The room was filled with warmth, love, and an air of quiet anticipation. Our baby, so long awaited, would soon be here with us. I could hardly believe I would soon be able to hold the baby that had consumed my thoughts and dreams for so many months. We already knew each other so intimately, yet we had never really met. We talked and laughed; it felt wonderful to be actively working toward bringing my baby into the world surrounded by an atmosphere of total love and trust in the process of childbirth.
At one point, as P. was checking to see how far the baby had descended during the latest contraction, I suddenly wondered if I would also be able to feel her head. I reached down and to my surprise and amazement I was able to touch my darling baby for the first time. I felt the top of her skull, and it’s soft downy coating of hair. It is yet another part of this amazing experience I cannot find the words to explain. After carrying this little person within me for nine whole months and I was finally touch her before she was born. What an incredible and awesome gift. A huge wave of love passed through my body, it was almost electrifying. I invited Sam over to feel the baby as well, as he touched her head he looked up in amazement and said, "That's our baby"! I will never forget the look of wonder and awe that crossed his face at that moment. As beautiful as the moment was, I started to feel the beginnings of another contraction and was anxious to get back down to business. I made everyone laugh by looking at Sam and saying, "Now don't push it back in!" Once I felt my sweet baby's head I felt much more focused and connected and pushed with renewed strength.
During this stage of labour I was expending a huge amount of energy, and as each contraction subsided I would take well-deserved rest. I would take a drink of water or a bite to eat and then just drift off in my own little world to conserve strength. I felt as if I was retreating into the oldest and most instinctive part of my brain; the part that had been helping women give birth for thousands and thousands of years. I was at once aware that the instinctive memories that would guide me to my baby were within me, indeed are within all women, if we only have the strength to discover them. Logic had no place now, only feelings and instincts were necessary to finish what had begun nine long months ago. After all my reading and research, questioning the status quo, and playing an active roll in every part of my pregnancy, it was a relief to completely surrender to the sensations and let my body do what it was made to do. I laid my head back against the side of the pool and closed my eyes while Sam wiped my face, neck and upper body with an ice-cold cloth. At times I think I was just barely awake and felt as if I was floating in my own private space, all extraneous distractions vanished like dust on the wind, until once again my body signaled that it was time to help guide our baby into the world.
At this point I was still in the pool, leaning back against the side. P. had me draw my knees as far back as I could between contractions, but each time the contraction receded my legs would slowly drift together again as if pulled by magnetic force. Time and again P. would remind me to keep my legs apart in order to give the baby room to descend. Despite my good intentions, I continued to close my legs between each contraction. Finally she looked at me and jokingly asked, "Are you trying to keep this baby inside"? Of course my answer was a resounding no, I wanted to meet my baby as soon as possible! That was the last reminder I needed!
After I had been pushing for a little while, P. suggested I try a few contractions in a squatting position, as being upright would help move the baby down the birth canal faster. I was so comfortable it was hard to imagine moving, but during my many visualizations of labour I had often envisioned labouring in a squat, and was eager to try this position. Movement of any kind seems awkward when you are nine months pregnant, but during labour it feels near impossible. It must have been quite a picture, me with my huge pregnant belly, trying in vain to swing around in the pool and get myself upright. In the end I needed both P. and my dear husband to hold me up in order to remain squatting; I just didn't have the balance or coordination to do it on my own. To my surprise, pushing in this position felt very strange to me, and not nearly as natural as lying down. I did feel as if I was really making progress, but also as if I was using an extraordinary amount of energy to maintain the position. After a few contractions P. had me lie down so she could check the baby's heart rate with the Doppler. I had made a great deal of progress, but due to the rapid compression of the head during descent she felt that the baby was not tolerating it very well. To my immense relief suggested I return to my semi-lying position. She continued to have me lift my body from the water between contractions to check the heart rate; and thankfully the baby continued to do well. Each time a contraction passed she had me sit in a more upright position and breath deeply in order to deliver more oxygen to the baby.
Time was irrelevant to me, I had no concept of how much time had passed or what time of day it was. It could have been minutes or hours that had passed while I pushed, the only cue I had was that the room had slowly darkened and at one point the lights were turned on. It was as if we were all suspended in time; nothing was moving around me, all my energies were focused on the job at hand. We were not operating on any kind of deadline or timetable; nobody had a schedule to meet or other places to be. My body and the baby were the only factors determining the pace of the birth; it felt to right and natural that it should be this way. Occasionally during a break between contractions my curiosity would be piqued and I would long for a finite measure of how much longer I needed to work. I would ask P. how long she thought I had left, but as soon as I started pushing again her answer would be erased from my mind.
As time passed I could feel the baby's head moving further and further down my birth canal, and would occasionally reach down to feel her head and see what progress I had made. The birth record shows that at 6pm the contractions were coming every minute and that the baby was at +2 station, meaning her head was now below my pelvic bones. As her head moved further down I began to feel immense pressure against my tailbone, and soon could actually feel it moving outward as I pushed and the baby's head moved past it. After the contraction subsided I could feel the baby's head slip back again and my tailbone return to its position. At this point P. held her had against my perineum and told me how to focus my pushing down low. I began to understand how to maintain the baby's position as I inhaled between pushes, not letting her slip back. Before this point it had been two steps forward, one step back; now I realized that I needed to maintain a minimum pressure in order to prevent the baby from moving back during breaks in the pushing. It is quite hard to explain, but it felt as if things moved faster once I made this connection.
As things continued I began to feel more and more pressure. P. periodically asked if I was experiencing pressure or burning and if so how much. I was excited when I started to feel burning in my perineum with each push because I knew that meant the baby's head was close to crowning; my baby was going to be born soon. When I told P. that I had begun to feel the burning sensation I had so often heard described she gave a simple instruction, but one that made complete sense. It was such a small piece of advice, but to me it made all the difference in the world. She told me that there was a difference between burning and burning too much, and that my body already knew the difference. For some reason these few words of wisdom completely integrated themselves into my subconscious and allowed me to control my pushing efforts in response to the signals from my body. When a contraction began I would bear down with full effort, but as the burning started I would slow down, giving small pushes and making quiet grunting exhalations with each push. This allowed my body to stretch gently to accommodate the baby's head as it descended. P. also had me tell her where I felt the greatest amount of burning (top, bottom or sides). Thus, she was she was able to apply pressure where I needed it the most, supporting my perineum and minimizing the chances of my experiencing a tear. She also continued to repeat the words that become like a mantra for me, "Listen To Your Body". I felt an awesome amount of power and control, I knew I was doing exactly what my body needed and was so close to meeting my child. Again, my awe at the incredible design of the female body was strengthened. We have been made so absolutely perfectly, that we are able to safely contain a baby inside us for nine months and, with the same body, stretch to allow the baby passage into the world. It never ceases to leave me with a feeling of respect for the wonder of creation. I disagree with anyone who says the design of childbirth could be improved upon, having experienced pregnancy and childbirth I simply can't imagine anything more perfect.
The stretching and expansion of my body was so incredible now as to almost defy description. Now I could feel her head moving down with each contraction. With every small push, I could feel the muscles of my perineum stretch even more as my baby approached the outside world. I felt as if we were gaining momentum and knew that very soon my efforts would be rewarded. In between contractions I continued to reach down and feel the baby’s head in order to gauge my progress and to give me incentive to continue. I had to draw my legs back as far as possible in order to give her room to descend. The sustained effort of pushing for so long was incredibly draining, but the desire to meet my baby outweighed the fatigue. Somehow I was able to reach within and find the energy to keep going. The room was quiet, the water was warm, and my loving husband was by my side. Our baby would soon be born in the most wonderful atmosphere imaginable. I hoped, with all my heart, that her gentle, loving birth would be followed by many, many gentle and loving years on earth.
Part VI: Welcome To The World, Baby Bella!
Finally I could feel the baby's head was partially outside of me, my body was stretched to its limits, skin straining, as I slowly and with controlled pushes brought my baby into the world. I was so involved that I didn't notice R. and Sam change places so that he was at the bottom of the pool. Before I knew it someone was announcing that our baby's head was outside of me, her father's gentle hands touching her the whole time. I heard my dear husband exclaim with wonder as he touched her full chubby cheeks. He tried to have me reach to feel them as well, I gave a half hearted attempt, but was so focused on the task at hand that I soon gave up and looked to P. for direction on when to push again. I asked if I should continue with the slow, controlled pushes that had delivered her head, but P. told me to push now with all my might (her actually words were 'Go for the Gusto!'). R. helped me hold my legs back as far as possible, I tucked my chin to my chest, took a deep breath and I gave one last awesome push. I pushed with every fiber of my being, and gave all my remaining energy to birthing my baby. Sam sat back as P. delivered her shoulders, she was quite tightly wedged, and you can hear P. on the video saying "Big baby! Big baby!”
With a rush that was almost anti-climactic her body slid out of mine and my husband and midwife brought her up out of the warm water and onto my stomach. I reached down to take her into my arms and was overcome by a wave of emotion so powerful it left me breathless. This beautiful, perfect creature was my baby, she had been created in love, born in love and I was determined that she be raised and surrounded by love all her days on the earth. A wave of strong, visceral, fierce mother-love flooded through me. I knew without a doubt that I would lay down my life to protect this helpless little being. The journey to this point had been so long; sometimes beautiful, others times arduous, but always amazing. In an instant it was over. The past year flashed before my eyes in that one moment as I held my baby for the first time. Conception. Pregnancy. Labour. Birth….. Mother.
Sam and I were both crying tears of utter joy (Sam silently, me with complete, utter and noisy abandon) as we gazed at our baby for the first time. She did not immediately start to cry, but gazed intently at us with a serene and intense look on her face, as if she had known us for years. I now understand fully why we speak of the 'miracle of life'; there could be nothing more miraculous than the birth of a baby. I once heard that having a baby is our one chance in life to assist God in the creation of a miracle. That beautiful thought stayed with me as I stared into the face that I would soon come to know better than my own. Sam and I kissed and hugged and laughed and cried and touched our baby. How in the world did two ordinary people like us create something so perfect? Just moments had passed and we were already so head over heels in love. I couldn't believe I was finally a mother. All the discomforts of pregnancy and the hard work of labour were more than worth this moment. P. told us to talk to our baby, but overcome with emotion all I could say was, "Hi Sweetheart, we waited a while for you."
Someone had immediately covered her in a towel and R. checked her heart rate and continually poured warm water from the pool over her in order to keep her warm, while rubbing her skin to stimulate breathing. We were so overcome by emotion that we did not immediately check to see the gender of our child, all I could think of it that I was finally holding my precious, long awaited baby. Very soon she gave a healthy, lusty cry, as that sound filled the room I began to cry even harder, what a beautiful sound.
A few minutes after she was born R. instructed me to cover her bottom with the towel. Suddenly realizing we did not yet know if we had a son or daughter I replied, much to everyone’s amusement, "What kind of bottom is it?" I immediately looked down and realized for the first time that I had given birth to the beautiful little daughter of my dreams. We exclaimed, "It's a girl! It's Isabella!" as the tears poured down our faces and we stared at our newborn daughter, Isabella Charlotte Rose. Her middle names are in honor of my maternal grandmother, Charlotte Rose-Brison, who means more to me than I could ever say. I continued to gaze in awe at this incredible new person and said softly to my brand new daughter, "Hi, beautiful girl."
It was very important to us that she remain with us in those important moments immediately following her birth. She was not suctioned, poked or prodded but was treated gently and with love. She was not taken from my arms for any assessments or exams. Everything that needed to be done took place right there in the pool, with my little Bella where she belonged, safe and warm in her mothers arms. P. told us that she needed our touch as stimulation to keep her breathing, so we touched her lightly, running our hands all over her body, examining each tiny feature in detail. We stared at her, as if trying to memorize her features. I was so surprised that she did not look like the newborns I had seen in videos; she did not have the typical cone-head or any visible blemishes. She had full chubby cheeks that just amazed us, full lips, long eyelashes, a soft covering of dark brown hair, long fingers and toes (just like mom) and was perfect in every way. At one minute after birth her Apgar score was nine (she lost one point for colour) but at five minutes she scored a perfect 10.
After all the waiting and hard work, I could hardly believe it was over. Almost with disbelief in my voice I said, "I had my homebirth". Perhaps on some level I had held onto some small doubt that it could really happen. I looked up at P., R. and K., the three women who had become so important to us over the past nine months, and had given us the most wonderful gift. In a voice thick with the emotion of the moment I thanked them for everything, told them how wonderful it was for us and that I could not imagine it any other way. I looked back down at my peaceful baby girl and repeated softly to her, "I can't imagine it any other way". We had been blessed beyond all expectations. The reality of holding our daughter transcended all our dreams.
Part VII: Getting To Know Our Beautiful Girl
Sam asked if I should try to breastfeed her, in my excitement I had not given this any thought. I was wearing a bikini top, and pulled down the strap on one side to see if she would latch on. She was not yet too interested, so after a few minutes we gave up and continued to enjoy our time with our daughter. K. snapped some wonderful pictures during this period, and every time the flash went off she wrinkled her little forehead and closed her eyes tightly shut, resenting the intrusion of bright light after spending such a long time in the dark cocoon of my womb.
After 10 minutes or so I began to feel the onset of another contraction. It took me by surprise for a moment before I remembered that I still had to deliver the placenta. I hadn’t expected these contractions to be as painful, but they still required my attention to breath through them, they felt very similar to the contractions of early labour. We checked the umbilical cord, which was still pulsing quite strongly. Unlike in a hospital birth, most midwives do not immediately cut the cord on delivery, preferring instead to allow the baby to receive the last of the placental blood. Once the pulsing of the cord has slowed or stopped, the baby is no longer receiving benefit from the placenta and the cord is cut. I continued to experience a contraction every few minutes and would just zone out and breath through them. Twenty minutes after her birth I reached down and noticed that the placenta was already partially outside of my body. I told P. what was happening and waited for her instruction. She told me that she did not want me to deliver the placenta in the pool, because water could rush back inside me. She instructed to hold the placenta inside of me until I was out of the pool. The cord was still pulsing slightly, but I at this point I was more than ready to get out of the pool.
We uncovered Isabella, who screamed aloud with displeasure at this unwelcome invasion. With instruction from the midwives, Sam cut the cord, severing the last physical connection between my daughter and myself. I looked at her and told her that she was now her own little person. She was separated from me physically but an emotional bond had already formed which could never be broken. P. took Isabella, who was still making small noises of protest at the disturbance, and dried her off. She was swaddled tightly in clean, dry towels to keep her warm, and then handed her to her daddy for the first time. Sam took her like a pro, handling her gently and with such tenderness it brought new tears to my eyes. It was such a beautiful sight and I could see that he was already completely in love with her perfect little girl.
After Isabella was safely nestled in her father’s arms, the ladies came to help me out of the pool. R. and P. got behind me to help lift me up. I felt very ungainly and the very antithesis of ladylike as I slowly struggled to an upright position. As soon as I stood up the placenta fell out of me and landed in the pool with a big splash. I was pleasantly surprised that the third stage of labour had been so easy! Even though I had two women supporting me I felt extremely weak and dizzy, and they quickly brought me over to lie down on the bed. It was such a wonderful feeling, after so many hours of physical and mental exertion to sink into my soft, comfortable, familiar bed with my husband and daughter lying right next to me.
Unfortunately my relief was short lived, just moments after I reached the bed I realized that something was wrong. I heard P. say “K., get me the pitocin. Fast!” From my research I knew that pitocin (the synthetic version of the hormone oxytocin, which stimulates uterine contractions) was administered after birth in the event of a post partum hemorrhage. The pitocin stimulates the uterus to contract harder, expelling the placenta and closing off the blood vessels at the site of placental attachment. Everyone was very calm, but moved quickly and with a sense of urgency. We normally associate blood with pain, but I was bleeding profusely, at a rate that required drug intervention to counteract, and I could not feel a thing. It was a strange, almost surreal experience. Within moments P. was injecting the pitocin into my thigh, with an apology for the pain. My leg burned at the injection site at the drug made its way into my muscles. She had me visualize the capillaries at the site of attachment closing off and the blood flow stopping. I asked if the blood loss was serious and P. replied that it was not, but that she was taking action now in order to prevent a dangerous situation from occurring. She explained further that sometimes the placenta separates slowly and blood pools within the uterus, so that it is unable to contract down correctly. Following the injection my bleeding quickly slowed to normal levels and the room once more regained an aura of calmness and peace.
P. continued to perform external massage of my abdomen in order to ascertain the position, size and firmness of my uterus, and to help it continue to contract. The massage was uncomfortable but not painful. P. then examined me while Sam held Isabella, comforting her and telling her softly that her Mama was busy, but would be with her again soon. I looked over at them to see that Bella had found her thumb and started sucking away, her small fingers splayed across her cheek, she must have been practicing for several months! Following the exam P. gave me great news. I had no perineal tears, just two small internal "skid marks". No stitches were necessary; although she told me I could still expect some discomfort. Sam and I had faithfully (if without enjoyment) performed perineal massage during my last trimester. I credit this, as well as the fact that I gave birth in the water with preventing me from tearing, even though her head was above average in size. P. also gave me a great complement and told me I stayed very in tune with my body and listened to my instincts about when and how to push. I brought my daughter into the world with very slow and controlled pushes; this helped me to stretch to accommodate her so that I did not tear during delivery. I was very swollen and sore, and unfortunately had developed one of the things I had hoped to escape, hemmorids! I feared that my body would never be quite the same again.
For some time the three of us lay on the bed and spent some quiet time together. I held Isabella and allowed her to lick and suckle at my breast, as P. told me that this would signal my body to release it’s own oxytocin. She rooted around but seemed not quite sure what she was supposed to do; it would end up taking her a few days to figure out nursing. P. and K. took the placenta into the bathroom to examine it. They explained that it is very important to make sure the placenta was complete and that no pieces remain inside my uterus. Fortunately, the placenta was complete, and appeared very healthy. Sam went into the bathroom and they showed it to him, and explained the different parts and how it had provided our daughter with blood and nutrients. I very much wanted to see it, but due to the blood loss I was not permitted to get up from the bed.
The midwives then got busy straightening up the room, and would periodically check to make sure we were both okay, checking my blood pressure and Isabella’s heart rate and respiration. K. let Sam and I listen to her heart rate through the stethoscope. As I lay there, her tiny, perfect hand closed tightly around my finger for the first time, and I felt my heart squeeze and knew she had also wrapped herself around my heart.
P. was concerned that I still had not emptied my bladder and helped me to sit up on the bed to undertake a trip to the bathroom. I felt a gush of warmth on my legs and said, “I think I am bleeding.” They immediately laid me down again and gave me the pitocin for the second time. Unfortunately this time the pitocin did not have the intended effect. Methergine tablets were crushed and put under my tongue, and I was given a combination of herbs called Womb Stringe. While pitocin strengthens uterine contractions, metherigine creates one long sustained contraction and is given in serious cases. As we had discussed methergine and its uses prior to my labour I knew that this was something to be worried about, yet everything was handled so calmly that I don’t recall being afraid. I expected the contractions from the drugs to become much more painful, but fortunately they did not seem to change very much. K. put an oxygen mask on my face and monitored my blood pressure to be sure it did not fall to dangerous levels.
P. believed that my full bladder was contributing to the bleeding, as it was pushing my uterus off to one side and interfering with the contractions. There was also some question as to whether my septate uterus, which caused us so much worry early in the pregnancy, could have affected the uterine contractions. The septate itself would have a low musculature and might not be contracting hard enough. P. inserted a catheter to empty my bladder, I was nervous about his, but it only hurt for a moment. Apologizing frequently and profusely, P. then undertook some very hard and extremely painful external abdominal massage. This was probably the most painful thing I had endured during my entire labour. P. was exerting a great deal of pressure and told me that I would be bruised tomorrow. She later confessed that she had never massaged anyone that hard before. The massage caused me to pass several very large blood clots that slid from my body one after another, adding to the list of strange sensations I had experienced that day.
After the passage of the clots the bleeding slowed again and after careful monitoring it was clear that the crisis was over. If things had not resolved themselves at this point P. let us know that we would be heading for the hospital for further monitoring. I remained on the oxygen and my blood pressure was monitored periodically over the next few hours to be sure that everything was all right. Although I was very weak I felt fine, and was enjoying my time with Sam and Isabella. Throughout this we were informed at every step of the way what was happening, and the midwives were so calm and efficient that we were able to remain calm as well. I remember feeling nervous, but perfectly confident that P. knew exactly what needed to be done, and would care for me with the highest of standards. Shortly afterwards I asked Sam if he had been afraid, he replied that although there had been a lot of blood, he could see that everyone was so professional and prepared that he felt calm and in good hands.
Once we were sure that everything was all right with me, K. and R. preformed Isabella’s newborn exam. She is weighed 8 lbs, 8 oz and measured 23.25" long, 14.5" head circumference and 14 " chest circumference. They told us the average length of a newborn was approximately 20 inches and the average head circumference was approximately 13 inches. What a big girl! They checked her heart rate and respiration and all her reflexes. She was given the Vitamin K shot, which fortunately she did not seem to react to. We declined the erythromycin eye ointment. As we were very sure I did not have any STDs, there was no reason for her to be given antibiotic eye ointment that could irritate her eyes and interfere with our first night of bonding.
Isabella was given a clean bill of health and was dressed in a onesie and socks with a footed sleeper on top, along with a hat and a tightly swaddled blanket to help her keep her warm during her first night in the big cold world. We all laughed when Sam first returned from her nursery with clothes for her, he had no idea what a sleeper was, and had brought back a 6 month size onesie for our tiny little girl. Evidently Daddy needed just a bit of practice, and he got some very soon as Bella required her very first diaper change. You would not know he had never changed a diaper before; he was an expert father right from the start. The midwives then left us alone for a little bit of private time to bond as a family while they cleaned up and did the laundry, talk about service! After the midwives left Sam and I were exhausted but unable to sleep. Isabella had fallen asleep soundly in her bassinet by our bed, and we just sat and stared at this beautiful little creature, sent from God to grace our lives. We were amazed and humbled that we had been so blessed. In less than 24 hours we had experienced an event so profound that we were forever changed. We found it hard to believe that we had started the day as a couple and ended the day as a family of three. We lay in bed together, curled side by side, whispering softly to one another as Isabella continued to weave her spell around our hearts. We felt completed, more in love than we ever had been and before we slept we gave thanks for the gift of our beautiful daughter.
Part VIII: Epilogue
I entered my pregnancy aware that I wanted to seek out an experience that was different from that which I had seen portrayed in the media. I instinctively knew that this was not the way birth was meant to be. My labour and the birth of my baby cemented my beliefs. All of my desires for Isabella’s birth were fulfilled by the blessed event we experienced. We know that without a doubt that all our future children will be born at home, in an atmosphere of peaceful, trusting and joyful anticipation.
Sam and I would like to sincerely thank P., K., and R., for helping us achieve our dream of a peaceful and beautiful entry into the world for our precious baby girl. Your wisdom, support, strength and love are visible in everything you do - thank you so much for being a part of our pregnancy and Isabella's birth. Our homebirth experience was a dream come true, an empowering experience and a wonderful way to begin our life together as a family