For my sister

For my sister…

Having been here before, I know that you know what awaits you in the upcoming weeks as you prepare to birth and mother the new lives that you will soon meet.  Somehow, still, when our bodies are sore and our minds are tired, we can lose sight of how birth, children and mothering is the most life affirming experience we will have.  Here are some reminders:

The moment your first contraction begins signals the start of the most vivid, exciting, memorable hours of your life.  Go with it and remember, you will meet your baby or babies today!

“Enjoy “every contraction- every single one is bringing you closer to seeing your baby’s face for the first time.

Breath, refocus, find a mantra, remember that it won’t last forever….

The moment you hold your child for the first time is the single most powerful emotional experience of your life, and it only lasts a second.  If I could relive that moment again and again, I would, even if it meant reliving the whole, sometimes painful experience.  It is all, so, so incredibly worth it, every second of it.

Babies are the most beautiful and awe-inspiring beings of humankind.  There are so many immeasurable ways that babies change our world for the better.  And when they are your babies, that change is tenfold.

Yes they are cute but they can also be exhausting.  This magical, intense time, as you know, is far too short when looking back.  You are so lucky to be able to bask in those early days all over again!

Getting to know new life, in so many intimate ways, is such an incredible journey.  As they grow, you grow and you all grow as a family.  Embrace the chaos!

Being a mother is one of the most difficult, rewarding, challenging, life-changing, dramatic, scary, blissful roles that you will have.  The one thing that never changes is that you will never love as much as you love your children.  This love will be with you forever.

You are a strong, persistent, caring, dedicated, loving, loyal, stubborn, fun, thoughtful person. You have given life to beautiful children and you will always have each other as you grow old together and your lives take innumerable twists and turns.  Your babies are about to emerge into the loving arms of a family and to become an integral part of all of your lives.  So many memorable life moments await you all!

Thank you for your family.  I love you all.

Every new life imprints and alters this life and world forever.

(I had intended to post this in anticipation of the arrival of my newest nieces or nephews or both.  I wrote these words for my sister’s mama blessing as she prepared to birth her twins.  My sister predicted they would arrive yesterday, the day before the full moon, as her daughter and her twin boys had arrived on their birth days.  Her second set of twin boys arrived in the early hours of January 22nd this week and I couldn’t be more excited  to be an auntie for the fourth and fifth time!  Welcome Levon Loup and Redding Bow and love to their mama as she enjoys her baby moon…)

Home birth: A personal account

Birthing and delivering a baby at home always intrigued and interested me.  I explored the option with my first pregnancy, meeting with a midwife and discussing home birth.  At the time, midwives were not covered by Alberta Heath Care and the fee was more than we were prepared for.  My interest in home birth was repeatedly met with blank looks and concern.  My family doctor’s words when I asked about choosing a midwife for my primary caregiver were “As long as you don’t have a home birth, I don’t see why not”.  This remains the dominant view of home birth by many and one I can understand.  If you are trained or experienced in one way of birthing, it is likely the way you are most comfortable with.  I was interested in birth from the midwife perspective as it most aligned with my view of birth.  Birth, and particularly natural birth, is after all the primary focus of midwifery practice and training.  However, deterred by the cost and the unknowns of first-hand birth, I chose the Shared Care Program; a midwife based pilot project that allowed women to birth in birthing rooms at Westview Hospital in Stony Plain designed for natural birth.  Shared Care was the perfect choice; my first birth experience gave me the confidence in my body I needed and lessened the fear surrounding birth.  I could do it at home.  While I loved the Shared Care approach, by the time my second baby was conceived, the program no longer existed.  It may have been the unfortunate victim of the much celebrated decision of the Alberta government to finally publicly fund midwifery services.  In turn, it meant that this time I could have covered midwife care and choose a home birth if I so wished.

Finding a midwife proved surprisingly difficult.  I was 6 weeks pregnant yet every midwife I contacted could not guarantee they had a space available for my due date.  I was put on waiting lists and told I would be contacted.  Another interesting outcome of government coverage was that midwives were in demand and there were simply not as many trained midwives as pregnant women seeking their care.  I was excited when I got an email offering care and quickly responded to make my first appointment.  I was fairly sure I wanted a home birth but had a lot of questions.  Try as I might to ignore the disapproving comments and concerns of others, every comment made me question my decision.  I went into my first appointment on the fence, as I could also choose to have a midwife attended hospital birth.  I was armed with questions, and hoping to leave my first appointment clearly on the side of the fence that was right for me.

Birth can be scary.  My biggest concern were all the “what ifs” of birth and the safety of myself and my baby.  Each scenario I presented met with knowing understanding and case by case procedures for ensuring safety.  Essentially, home birth is possible when a women and baby are considered low risk.  As midwife care is very intimate and thorough, they are able to assess risk and determine where best to deliver.  They also know when transfer to hospital is necessary and do not hesitate to do so if need be.  They arrive at your home equipped with emergency equipment which is set up immediately upon arrival, if needed in unforeseen circumstances.  They are trained to deal with the myriad possibilities of birth.  I felt safe and my fears were quelled.  My other concerns were more pragmatic.  Was it messy?  I was surprised at the amount of blood of my first birth, and was certainly glad it was not my sheets I was on.  They assured me the clean up was up to them.  They provide you with a list of supplies to have organized, and on hand ahead of time, in preparation for birth day.  This included instructions for making your bed with a plastic sheet for minimal damage.  The single most important item, I would realize after, was a lot of disposable incontinence pads; I went through many of these after birth.  The thing that sealed the deal was when I asked about water birth.  Water was the most effective pain relief in my first birth and the water birth of my son was something I wanted to relive.  While midwives have admitting privileges in certain hospitals, water birth is not allowed (some hospitals allow labouring in a pool but one must get out when it is time to push).  I wanted to birth in a pool and to do so meant birthing at home.  Decision made, I called to book my birth pool rental for the weeks leading up to my due date in May.

I looked forward to my midwife appointments with eagerness.  As midwives sole care is pregnancy, birth and postpartum, appointments are personal, thorough, relaxed and engaging.  Appointments follow the recommended once monthly until 30 weeks, then biweekly then weekly at 36 weeks.  Any concerns are addressed and relevant topics as per your week of pregnancy are discussed.  All the regular lab tests and ultrasounds are available if you so choose.  Of course if any thing of concern arose outside of an appointment, they were always a call away.  I had both a midwife and a student midwife at all my appointments and I got to know them well.  At every birth, at least two midwives and commonly three, are present to attend the birth.   As the week of my due date approached, I was looking forward to birthing with them.

Getting ready: Two days before birth day

In the final weeks of my pregnancy, I busied myself getting the house ready for birth.  I made sure I had all the things on the list and stored them in a basket in the closet.  I made a batch of “birth day muffins” and stored them in the freezer.  I made sure the house was tidy each day; I would need a clean space in which to labour.  At what turned out to be my last midwife appointment, the day before my due date, my cervix was effaced and ripe but not yet dilated enough for a membrane sweep.  I was getting impatient.  A week before, when experiencing intense Braxton-Hicks (false labour) contractions, I called to have the birth pool delivered just in case.  I thought maybe inflating it for a trial run would help inspire labour to begin.  I made a list of things for my husband to do when labour began:  call my parents to pick up our son, inflate pool and set up hoses, call midwives to say labour had begun, get birthing supplies out of closet, make up bed, remember massage and breathing support…  I was ready.

It was early in the morning, the day after Mother’s Day, when the contractions began.  Labouring at home felt good.  I could move as I wanted to, had music and food at my disposal, and my husband was able to be in his own space while I laboured.  I felt no rush to go anywhere and felt secure knowing I would be staying put, no car ride, no interruptions .  We called the midwives when the contractions picked up and they arrived 20 minutes after the call.  They arrived as a pair and one of them checked on me while the other set up the emergency equipment and set out their supplies.  A third midwife arrived shortly after to assist with the birth.  Focus was on me from the moment they got in the door.  They helped me throughout my labour, checking on the baby, suggesting positions, helping me relax during intense contractions.  It was an intense labour.  When I moved to the pool for pushing, they made sure the water was warm, filling the tub continuously with hot water.  They worked beautifully as a team.

Warming the birth pool

Contraction

Checking on baby

My home was transformed into a space of birth.  When our baby’s head emerged, all three women were in position for the delivery and prepared for the moments after birth.  When our baby needed assistance coming out, all three knew exactly what to do without hesitation to help her out (see full birth story here).  She was immediately placed on my chest, checked and warmed with a towel.  As her entry into the world was a little sticky, they spent the first few minutes making sure she was doing well.  Yet, their attentions never left me and they moved into coaching to push out the placenta.  We decided to cut the cord after it stopped pulsating to help the placenta’s departure.  Daddy did the honours and the cord was cut.  I had a shot of oxytocin, pushed and the placenta was out.  All the while my beautiful baby girl was nestled in my arms.  After they were assured that I was not losing too much blood, our baby was handed to dad and the couch was padded up, ready for me. Weak, I was assisted up and made comfortable.  I sat, relaxed, ate a muffin, drank some water, and caught my breath.  Ruby was making sucking noises and I took her in my arms and she immediately latched and nursed for the first time.  The midwives cleaned up, did paper work, and continuously checked on me.  The atmosphere was celebratory.  It was a beautiful evening and the the late day light poured into the room.  I was home, she was born right where I was sitting, she was home.

At work after the birth

With mama

First cry

Cutting the cord

Skin to skin with dada

Getting weighed

After the flurry of clean up and paperwork, and feeling well rested, I decided it was time to move to the bed to settle with my girl.  My husband helped me to the room and into cozy pajamas.  Fresh pads under me in the bed, I got in.  Ruby was still nursing and showed no signs of wanting to stop.  With the clean up complete and the supplies packed up, the final thing left was to weigh our baby.  She was big and we were all anxious to know how much she weighed.  Bets were on as they thought she was likely more than 10 lbs.  She was not happy about letting go of her milk supply but it was time to weigh her and check her over before their departure.  She weighed 9 lbs 15 1/4 ounces; just shy of 10 lbs.  They did all the newborn testing of reflexes, heartbeat, skin and she was passed back to mama, a healthy, strong baby girl.  My parents and my son arrived shortly before the midwives left.  My son climbed into our bed to meet his little sister for the first time.  It had been a long day for all and he was ready for bed himself.  My husband tucked him in and my parents met their granddaughter. The midwives said their goodbyes after making sure we were well.  They would be back in two days for the first of several postpartum appointments; I loved these postpartum visits, especially as I was able to nest and not worry about going anywhere.  The only unfortunate mishap of our home birth was forgetting to return the hose emptying the birth pool back into the toilet and finding water on our bathroom floor and subsequently in our basement.  Oops.  Besides this, you would never know that a birth had taken place in our home just hours before.  Ruby nursed and nursed as I gazed at her face and took in every inch of her.  The moonlight seeped into our room.  The first night together was absolutely magical.  We were right where we belonged.

The best part of home birth is the memory of the birth etched into the spot of delivery.  In the mornings when I sit on the couch with the sun making its’ way into the room, I gaze at the spot where Ruby first made her appearance in the world.  It was a memorable day and our home now houses an incredible life moment in its’ walls.  Very special indeed.

The first hours after birth

The baby is here.   The pain of labour seems but a distant memory.  The first few minutes after your baby is born are the most surreal minutes of your life.  Then, shortly after the delivery of the placenta and when it is time to move, the reality of what your body has been through begins to show itself.  I became aware after my first birth that I was wholly unprepared for postpartum.  With all my attentions focused on pregnancy and birth, I knew little about how my body would feel after giving birth.

With baby safely in dad’s arms, the attention was back on me.  When it came time to move, my body felt like jelly.  Limbs felt limp and a wave of slight dizziness took over.  As the endorphins wore off, my body was showing signs of having been through an incredibly tasking physical challenge.  First the placenta was thoroughly checked over and made sure to be intact to ensure none was retained.  Then, I was checked for any tearing.  With my first I had two small tears which required stitching.  With my second, my 10 pounder, I incredibly had no tearing.  I was assisted to a stand and taken to a comfortable place.  Shell shocked, stunned and feeling weak, very weak.  A lot of blood continues to exit the body, more than I expected.  This was a concern when we opted for a homebirth the second time around but it was really a non-issue; you have everything you need for easy clean up and the midwives take care of this for you.  The blood continues for hours, days and weeks to follow as your body returns to its’ natural state.  Tenderness and soreness in the perineal area, this too would last for at least a week after delivery.  I was not prepared for the sudden feeling of emptiness.  My belly was deflated, empty and I found myself mourning my pregnant self.  Ironically, near the end of your pregnancy you can’t wait for the birth yet once it comes, the sudden emptiness can be shocking. I showered, briefly as standing too long after birth is discouraged, and famished, I ate my birth day muffin.

Once you are settled in a bed or on a couch, it is baby’s turn.  Checked over, weighed, cleaned and they are all yours.  For both of my babies, breastfeeding happened immediately and easily.  I attribute this partly to their drug-free, natural births.  They were both alert and responsive immediately after and for the first few hours after birth.  My son latched easily and with a little assistance, we figured it out quickly.  My daughter was born sucking her fingers and literally nursed for 4 hours after her birth.  We had to finally interrupt her eating to weigh her before the midwives departed.  Breastfeeding releases oxytocin which helps contract the uterus back to its’ prepregnant size.  The after pains in those first few hours can be painful as you feel your uterus contracting.

First feed

The first night with your baby is one you won’t forget.  I was on such a high with both births that I barely slept that first night after giving birth. I gazed at my son as he slept between my husband and I on the Murphy bed at the birthing centre.  Watching him is one of my fondest memories of the first hours after his birth.  Being at home with my daughter for her first night in the world was so peaceful and beautiful.  After her birth, we settled right into our bed and spent our first night together.  So content, so perfect.

Water and natural pain relief in labour

Yes,  contractions hurt.  Let’s get that out-of-the-way right now.  They are a pain unlike any you have felt before and will ever feel again.  Every body, and indeed every labor, can have very different kinds and intensities of contractions.  The great thing about contractions is that the pain is purposeful.  Each one is dilating your cervix that much more to allow your baby to exit your body.  This is not a broken bone pain that serves only to annoy and make life more difficult.  This is pain that is bringing life.  Amazingly, it is possible to not feel very much pain at all.  I was as skeptical as anyone at the possibility of a “painless labour”.  I was beyond surprised when my first baby emerged and the preceding labour was delightfully manageable. “That was it?” were my thoughts upon pushing, and indeed it was.  My second labour was not so delightful and my picture of labour became more well-rounded.  Still, I was able to manage the intense contractions of my second baby and not once did I ever consider medicated pain relief,  probably because it wasn’t an option.  I had plenty of other means to manage the pain naturally and was able to rely on these and make it through to the birth.

Breathing.  In early labour, finding the breath that works for you to focus your way through each contraction is important.  Practice a variety of ways to breath daily before the birth day.  I practiced relaxation and breathing techniques nightly before going to bed.  I used techniques from Hypnobirthing and Birthing From Within, narrowing down those I felt most comfortable with and flagging them to be refreshed in the early hours of labour when you are still able to interact with the outside world.  I also found the breath used in Ashtanga yoga extremely helpful, probably because for me it was very familiar and an excellent means of meditative focus.  Breathing is easy at first but when contractions intensify, it is easy to lose your way and start to feel out of control.  Have your husband/partner practice the techniques with you and show him your flagged pages of techniques.  He can refer to them if you need him to help you find your way back to a grounding place.

The importance of place.  In looking back, place played a very large role in helping me relax during labor.  I found dim lights, candles, rhythmic music, safe space with room for movement were key to allowing me to relax and to progress.  With my first, I retreated to the dark, candlelit corner of the shower and labored.  I progressed peacefully and quickly.  With my second, although in the comfort of my home, I felt very exposed and as it was a bright sunny day, it felt all together too bright.  I somehow did not find my place as easily.  You may not know until you are in labour what conditions will help you.  Be prepared to make your space right for you to find “your place”.  Be careful who is in your space with you.  Intrusions to laborland can distract and derail “your place”.  You need support and you need to be left alone when necessary.  Instruct your people to let others know your need for privacy and minimal intrusion when you are in labor.

Movement and massage.  Make sure you can move freely.  I loved rotating on the birth ball for much of early and part of active labor.  I wasn’t big on walking around too much, once I got somewhere and it felt good, I stayed.  Many women do like to walk between contractions.  The worst position for me, by far, was lying down.  I tried it and instantly regretted it.  Sitting on the toilet, squatting, holding onto the edge the of bed, leaning on wall or partner, on my hands and knees were other positions I enjoyed.  My husband and I practiced light touch massage which is a great relaxer during labour.  Any lower back massage feels great between contractions.  Touch can feel good or bad.  Experiment and again prepare and practice with your partner before labor so it comes easily.

Birth ball

Positive affirmations.  Search out positive phrases that you can say to yourself to help you get through a trying stage of labor when you need to regain grounding and strength.  I had “I am the contraction”, “I will meet my baby today”, “My body knows exactly what to do”, “I can and am doing this” running through my mind.  Practice saying these statements the last month before your baby is due and write them down to see them visually if that would help.  It is amazing how powerful these phrases can be when you feel you can’t endure another contraction.

Water.  The mother of all natural pain relief.  Water feels so good during labor.  For my first birth I spent 4 hours, my entire active labour and transition in the shower.  The hot water running over me allowed me to find a meditative state and manage the contractions.  This was a revelation to me.  Water is truly the best softener of labor pain.  It helps to take the edge off and to relax the body.  With my second, I used this knowledge and immediately got into the tub when active labor began.  I moved to the birth pool when transition was becoming unbearable and immediately felt relaxed and was pushing soon after.  For my second birth, I opted to have a home birth largely because I knew first hand the soothing relief of water during labor.  Hospitals are often equipped with showers but do not allow water births.  I needed water to have the best odds of a natural birth.  My wish is that in the future we will create birthing spaces that encourage and allow for natural birth; these spaces would have a birthing pool as their central focus rather than a bed with stirrups.

Touch and water

Doula.  I had a doula for my first birth; she was invaluable.  I am a research junky and read everything I could about labor to prepare myself.  I read enough to know that you will never know how you will respond to labor until you experience it first hand.  I knew I needed the assistance of someone whom I trusted and who was not an intimate member of my everyday life to help assure me during labor.  My doula was my rock during my first birth.  When I expressed any distress, she was there to talk me back to my safe place. When I needed to be alone and do my thing, she would give space but was never far.  She articulated on my behalf and made sure I was comfortable at all times.  She let me know I would soon meet my baby, the best words I heard uttered all day.  Get a doula and don’t think twice about it.

Doula

Birth Day: The journey from the first contraction to cutting the cord

If I could give every woman a gift, it would be the gift of a natural birth.  I know every woman with the right support and circumstances (ie. a low-risk pregnancy) can birth naturally.  The secret is understanding our bodies and the biology of labour and birth.  Knowledge coupled with the support of a trained birth companion, midwives and natural pain relief measures, such as water, enable a woman to manage the intensity of contractions.  By reviewing our preconceived notions of birth and seeing the process as empowering rather than terrifying,  birth is returned to its’ rightful place as a sacred, metamorphic event.  The moment when your baby is born and baby and mama are fully present, unimpeded by synthetic drugs yet fueled by natures’ endorphins, is a moment that eclipses all pain ten-fold.  The preceding pain is purposeful,  the means to an end,  and what a glorious end it is.

There are three stages to labour.  Stage 1 is your body working hard to open and thin your cervix to allow your baby the room it needs to exit your body.  At the same time, it is working to move your baby down the birth canal to its’ final position before pushing.  It starts with early labour, those early contractions you feel that are a new tightening sensation, unlike the false labour cramps you may have felt as you approach your due date.  These are manageable contractions with longer breaks in between.  I chose to use early labour as an opportunity to find where and how I was able to own the contractions and figure out how best to manage each surge.  Then comes active labour.  As the contractions pick up, become more intense, and more frequent, you are in active labour.  This is exciting.  Your baby’s is really on their way.  It is now the time to seriously get into your contractions and be one with them;  you are the contraction.  Find your place and retreat there.  The final part of Stage 1 is the dreaded transition.  This is where your contractions will be felt most intensely.  With my son, I barely noticed transition and smugly relayed that labour actually was not so painful after all.  I ate my words with my daughter.  Transition was fierce and yes, I did scream that I would never go through labour again.  The thing about transition that kept me going is that it is the last of the contractions before pushing.  Each one is opening your cervix that much more and each one demands your attention in its’ own right.  The final opening of the cervix, often the last few centimeters before full dilation at 10 cm, is the most painful.  At this climax of pain, you are almost there and typically, transition is far shorter than early and active labour.  This is where women want, and are encouraged, to take the epidural.  The way I see it, your body has been working up to this moment and has a natural set of endorphins to help you manage.  Jump in the water now.  The water and your body work beautifully together to allow for you to make it to pushing and to your baby without the interference of drugs.  You can do this; this is the worst of it and the best is yet to come.

Stage 2Pushing and the birth of your baby.  When you feel the urge to push, you made it.  Your body knows when the time is right and you have gotten through the most challenging part of labour and are about to reach a place of euphoria that you will never experience again, the birth of your baby.  With my son, pushing felt amazing.  Truly, I loved it.  I had a glimpse of the “orgasmic birth” experience.  Pushing felt so intrinsic.  The contractions seemed to have melted away and I felt incredible.  My daughter was a different story.  I so looked forward to the pushing stage.  Her head emerged and I screamed, the ring of fire (an expression used to describe the head pushing through the vagina) was intense and unexpected.  Then my body seemed to fail me as I pushed but she did not seem to come.  It turned out she was a big baby and she was a little stuck.  The midwives let mere seconds go by before recognizing the need for their assistance.  They knew exactly what to do and with their accomplished hands, her body fully emerged.  In both circumstances, I can’t imagine not feeling my body push.  Typically, an epidural numbs your body so that you are unaware of the pushing sensation. This is the best part and I wanted to feel every second of it.  The climax of all this is, of course, the birth of your baby.  This is that one second of your life where you will experience a one of a kind euphoria.  A complex mix of hormones, endorphins and the emotional anticipation of seeing the being within you for the first time make this moment eclipse all the pain that preceded it.  You will, at that moment want to do it all over again just to replay that second.  There is no way to put this extreme life moment into words.  It must be felt first hand to appreciate.   Every birth is amazing, absolutely and irrevocably.  A new life entering the world brings me to tears no matter what the circumstances.  But if you could choose to have that moment in its’ purest form, wouldn’t you?  To be fully aware when your baby emerges for the first time, for your baby to be born without any chemical interference except the natural elixir produced by both of your bodies is to experience the emergence of life at its’ most profound.

"Okay, now pick up your baby"

Stage 3: Out comes the placenta.  You have your baby in your arms and you are in a state of dreamlike euphoria as you take in this little being that is suddenly out of your body.  I would use this moment as the definition of surreal.  You have a bit more pushing ahead as your body let’s go of the life-giving organ tailor-made for your baby- the placenta.  Babe in arms,  you will feel some cramping and be instructed to push.  Several pushes later and the placenta will be retrieved from your body.  The umbilical cord that is attached both to your baby and your placenta will be cut at some point in this last stage.  You are officially two…let the bonding begin.

The tree of life

That surreal moment

It all begins at birth

A Tale of Two Births

It was near 11 in the evening when I climbed into my bed, already occupied by a snoring husband, that I felt a gush of liquid exit my body.  It was 10 days before my due date and I jokingly mentioned to my husband earlier in the evening that he best not drink the whole bottle of wine as the baby could arrive anytime now.  As if to prove my mama-to-be intuition, it appeared my water had broken.  I proceeded to check things out in the washroom where more fluid gushed and I determined it to be amniotic.  I gave my doula a call.  She confirmed that she thought my water had broken and that now I needed to just go back to bed to await contractions that should begin in the next few hours.  “Rest up, you will need it”.  I shook my husband awake and whispered, “Hey, my water just broke.  It has started”.  In his red wine haze he showed a glimmer of excitement and said, “Wake me up when things start happening” and rolled back over returning to sleep.  I laid down, alert, waiting and fell asleep.

The next morning nothing had happened.  No contractions.  I decided to go for a walk and see if I could get things going.  Nothing.  I called the birthing centre and they recommended coming in to make sure everything looked okay and to confirm amniotic fluid.  My husband and I drove the 40 minutes to Stony Plain where the only government covered midwife care program in Alberta was located to check in on things.  Amniotic fluid was confirmed and all looked well.  A fellow Shared Care mama had just given birth to her daughter.  She looked so strong and well and shared that her birth was amazing.  I envisioned myself in her state tomorrow.  We opted to let my body decide when it was ready to go into labor and went home to wait for when that may be.

It was 1am when I felt my first contraction.  It jolted me awake.  I continued to sleep and every hour I felt a similar squeezing in my uterus but it was still early and sleep still manageable.  At around 8am the contractions started to be every 30 minutes or so and I started logging when they occurred and for how long.  I also called my women- my mom, my sis and my doula to let them know that today was the day.  As the contractions slowly gained in frequency and intensity I told myself that I had better figure out how to manage these surges now while they were still spread apart because soon I would have less time in between to get it together.  I quickly found that figure 8 movements on the birth ball helped manage the pain and that yogic breath helped keep me calm.  The beginning, rise and subsequent fall of each surge became a more predictable pattern and I knew that as the pain elevated it would then subside and I found a groove.  Okay, they hurt, and this was only the beginning but I was doing this and my baby was going to arrive today.  My body was doing its’ thing and I needed to be at one with it for it to work.  “I am the contraction”.  Words from my mother blessing a month earlier resonated and stuck with me.  It made perfect sense.  I tried to put into words what a contraction felt like.  I described it at the time as if your uterus is a rag and it is slowly getting wrung out, twisted then let go and then wrung again.  (Interestingly I decided that the contractions during my second labour did not feel like this at all so I concluded that every labour/body is different and there are no words to prepare you).  The contractions became more intense and closer together.  At 2pm I called the birthing centre to say we were on our way.  I walked out of the house on a bright fall day and my neighbours were outside next door.  They politely made small talk and I replied “I am in labour”.  I mention this only because I remember the blank look on their faces, I am not sure they knew what to say.

The car ride was a blur.  I laid the seat down as much as I could and went into a zone.  I had found labour land and I didn’t want anything to get me out of it.  Arriving at the Westview Hospital I remember walking by patients and thinking “Don’t catch anyone’s eye, you need to stay in this zone, stay focused, don’t let the world in”.  I was wrenched out of “my place” when I was abruptly forced to lay on the bed so the nurse could get a 20 minute strip of my contraction activity.  Laying on my back was the most uncomfortable I had been yet.  It was unbearable to me.  I couldn’t lie still and the nurse who was not usually a nurse for the midwife patients didn’t offer any alternative.  This is when my doula arrived and asked me where I would be more comfortable.  I said I liked the birth ball and that is where I sat for the 20 minutes.  Just like that I was able to return to “my place”.  The midwife arrived to check on me.  I decided I wanted to know how far dilated I was.  I was 2cm.  I stood up, more fluid gushed and I headed for the shower where I would spend the next few hours.  And this is where I allowed my body to open.  I went into a place, a corner with the lights off and a candle flickering and laboured.  My doula checked on me and I could hear her words of encouragement when my noises became more intense.  My husband was an anchor for me to lean on in the shower when I needed to stand and move.  Mostly I needed to just be and really it was all a strange haze with pain that somehow drifted and was not memorably intense.  Then I felt an urge to push.  I told my doula and she suggested that I move into the tub.  I did.  The water felt incredible and suddenly things became more vivid.  The contractions were long and intense.  I began to make guttural, animal noises.  The room came alive with activity.  There were knowing glances.  My head was leaning on the edge of the tub and my doula took my face in her hands and said “The baby is almost here”.  I felt like laughing.  She had to be joking.  This was it?  I had gone through the worst of it already?  What about transition?  I felt the urge to push.  And then something incredible.  It felt like the contractions had ended and I pushed.  Pushing felt glorious to me.  I now would even say, looking back that it may be what others have referred to as orgasmic.  It truly felt good.  And then the head was out.  I felt the head, fully out, my baby, its’ body just a push away.  The midwife said “Next push, reach down and pick up your baby”.  And the next glorious push, that is exactly what I did.  I reached down and picked up my baby out of the water.  It is that moment, when you feel your child come out of you and suddenly you are two.  It is but a second but there will never be another second in your life so charged with adrenalin, and the most concentrated feeling of love you will ever have.  Love is palpable in that one second and it will forever be etched as the second that changed all you know about life.  For me that moment was at 8:03pm on September 14th, 2008.  Our baby was a boy, our Jasper Jean.

Minutes after birth

And then, two and a half years later, came our Ruby Mei.  She was 4 days past my due date and I expected her mentally weeks before due to frequent, strong false labour contractions.  I found myself in the throes of impatience and stifled anxiety.  I was looking forward to labour and birth with eagerness; after all Jasper’s birth was so incredible I was ready to repeat the experience.  It was Mother’s Day and I was ready.  I was losing my mucous plug and knew that my body needed a little bit of encouragement.  My mom and I went on a two hour walk in river valley.  Just the boost we, my babe and I, needed.  Contractions started in the early hours of the next morning.  At 5am I woke up and the spaced out contractions felt familiar- here we go.  I texted my husband who works in the very early hours of the morning that she would arrive today.  I proceeded to find my zone.  Jasper woke up at 7am and my dad picked him up for the day at 9am. This time I was staying home.  We had planned a home birth as the beloved Shared Care program was ended when the government finally included midwifery care in their coverage.  There was no other option for me- I needed midwives and water to birth and home felt right.  I immediately got on the birth ball, breathed and then got into the bath tub when contractions gained in intensity.  More bloody show and regular, hard hitting contractions.  Somehow this felt different.  Something felt like it was impeding my progress.  My husband called the midwives when contractions were 5 minutes apart, strong and long.  I decided the fill the birth tub as I was feeling pushy.  When the midwives arrived I was in the pool and labouring very much like I had with Jasper but somehow I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere.  I mentioned that I felt like the contractions were lessening somehow and they suggested getting out and walking to help things along.  I made it to my room and as I leaned on my bed my water broke.  It was a loud pop and because I was already in labour, the gush was dramatic.  Suddenly the contractions became intense, violent surges that fell upon each other more quickly.  This was transition and I had never felt such pain.  We decided to check my progress.  I was 8cm but there was a cervical lip that was stubbornly staying put.  Each contraction was working to pull the lip back.  I moved from the bed to the toilet feeling out of control with the inevitable pain of each surge.  I was vocal.  I heard myself scream and swear at the peak of each contraction.  I was doing this I told myself and I knew that this was textbook transition, the shortest and most painful part of labour.  This time rather than a dreamy, hazy labour, I felt like this one was a hard edged, realistic technicolour experience where there was no where to hide.  I needed to ease the pain and after several hard, solid contractions on the toilet I needed to get back in the water.

It felt heavenly, the edge was softened.  The pain was still intense but I found “my place” again.  The midwives were busy filling the tub with hot water and Marc was busy preparing the camera.  Her birth felt imminent.  Several contractions later I was feeling the urge to push.  Our midwife wanted to check to see if the lip had receded.  It hadn’t.  She decided that on the next contraction she would attempt to pull the lip back over the head to allow it to move through.  I agreed.  I turned over and she moved the lip the best she could.  I got on all fours and let out what I remember as an ear piercing scream as I felt the head emerge.  “The head!” I yelled.  It was the ring of fire, I felt it this time.  Again I heard the calm words. “Okay, now on the next push reach down and pick up your baby”.  The moment was almost here.  I pushed.  My baby didn’t move.  I tried again and my body felt like it couldn’t do it.  This was the easy part and yet she wasn’t coming.  I said “I can’t do it”.  There was a quick rustle of activity and the decision was made. “We need to get you out of the tub, we will pull you up and put you on your back.  Ready, one , two, three…”.  I felt my baby’s head between my legs as I was carefully but quickly yanked from the pool. I was on my back and the midwives worked quickly to help Ruby out.  It was a matter of minutes and with their unwavering hands and expertise, she was out and placed on my chest.  My husband was ashen and shaken.  The room was tense for a millisecond but she looked strong and healthy and the mood quickly became celebratory.  She was tad blue and a little bruised up but she was pink within minutes. And she was huge.  She nestled in and I lay there a little shell shocked at how different that second was this time around.  It was still incredible but I mourned my envisioned peaceful water birth that wasn’t quite to be this time.  She was here, and I had her in my arms.  This time the magic happened when we were helped off the living room floor and I nursed her for the first time on our couch.  She arrived at 6:23pm.  It was a beautiful spring day.  I saw the birds at our feeder in the window.  The tabla music was playing softly in the background.  She was wrapped in our brown towel.  Our home had a new life and she emerged right at the very spot where our lives are their most intimate.  It was perfect.  She was perfect.  She nursed for four hours right after she was born stopping only to be weighed and checked over.  She was 1/2 an ounce shy of 10 pounds.