I can’t quite remember when the power went out; all I know is that on Christmas Eve we were truly fed up and irritated with our situation. As we packed the car and drove to my in-laws’ place for the night, I was feeling severely let down about having two of my carefully built fantasies fall apart around me.
Number 1: I had hyped Christmas up to such a degree for my son (who was really taking it all in this year for the first time), that the thought of not waking up on Christmas morning in our own home, to open presents and stockings under our own garishly decorated Christmas tree, was majorly upsetting.
Number 2: We were planning a homebirth… like any day now… and we were in the middle of a power outage, caused by an ice storm with no end in sight, and with no running water we were essentially displaced. We had gotten everything planned and ready for the birth, from the pool, to the towels neatly folded in the upstairs bathroom, to the exercise ball freshly inflated (thanks to hubby’s lungs), to the Michael Stowe etchings perfectly (finally) hung on the walls, and the salt lamp we drove to Saint John in a snowstorm for because I simply needed it for my birthing space.
This was a well thought out plan, and a dream that was a long time coming to fruition. As we drove to Fredericton to spend Christmas Eve at his dad’s place, my husband tried to convince me to come up with a Plan B for the birth. With my first I hopped from friend’s place, to hospital, to friend’s place, back to hospital while in labour. Despite appreciating their hospitality so much, jumping around from place to place and being out of my comfort zone was disruptive to my labour. I really, really did not want to be in borrowed space for this birth. I was, shall we say… slightly resistant. Actually, I tried to run away, and settled on hiding in the snow behind a parked transport truck. I think my angry crying might have given me away, because my husband soon came along to drag me back to reality. I staunchly refused to come up with a Plan B for the birth, but consented to our Plan B for Christmas and joined the normal non-angry crying people indoors for a lovely meal.
Sometime during dinner with the family I realized I was feeling a bit crampy and just generally “off”. We had planned to spend the night but my husband caught on to how I was feeling despite my refusal to admit anything was happening, and made up some excuse why we had to go home. I don’t think either of us knew exactly what would happen or what we should do in this situation, but when it came down to it I think he wanted to be in our home as much as I did, power or no power.
At home, we set out cookies and carrot sticks and wrote a nice note for Santa, got our son off to bed, did some busy work with stockings and presents around the tree, and prepared for another dark and chilly night. Then we went to bed. After awhile (not sure how long) I realized I was having sensations… I didn’t think of them as contractions, although that’s obviously what they were. It just felt like birth-y sensations that told me things were getting started, but after 2 full days of on again/off again labour with Jackson I had no reason to believe I would be having a baby any time soon. I called my birth attendants to let them know I was fairly sure I would be having a baby sometime in the next 24 hours, and focused on relaxing and trying to get some sleep.
During the night the sensations continued and strengthened. They also got closer together, although I wasn’t timing them because I was more concerned about getting some sleep than watching the time on my phone. I assumed I would be in “active” labour the next day and wanted to get as much rest as possible. The rushes intensified to the point that I was moaning and breathing through them, but I was so sleepy by this point that it was happening in a sort of half-asleep autopilot state that was probably really helpful. At one point I laid down with my boy to help him get back to sleep. After struggling through a strong sensation while lying with him I realized I couldn’t be on kid duty anymore and sent my partner down to sleep with him for the rest of the night. At this point I also got a bowl of clean water ready with some hand soap while he looked at me wearily, and I tried to assure him I was just puttering around and there was nothing to worry about.
I started having to use the bathroom… a lot… with a lot of weird things coming out. (sorry, but this is a birth story 🙂 ). I remember being really, really irritated about having to pee constantly, that is, when I didn’t have to poo! I just never didn’t have to pee, and it was very annoying as I was trying to get rest. The only thing that eased that frustration was the distinct satisfaction I felt as I scooped up a bucket of water from the bathtub, mid-sensation, and filled the back of the toilet in order to flush it. “I. am. awesome.” I thought. This moment still makes me laugh as I type… I was so proud to be “manning up” (Ha) and taking care of business, regular old 1900s prairie woman-style.
At some point I realized that the baby would be born sooner than I thought – probably in the morning – and sent my attendants each a text to let them know they should come once the woke up. I didn’t want to call and wake them then because I thought we had time and that they could use the sleep. And I admit, I wanted them to at least be able to see their kids before leaving on Christmas morning.
I was firmly committed to NOT having the baby during the night. It was dark, with the only light coming from candles burning in the bathroom and on my dresser. It was cold (even though my husband was keeping the generator fueled and fire burning, it was freezing outside and we just weren’t able to keep the house as warm as usual). I was alone. I was tired. And I just didn’t wanna. At some point, though, I remembered the vinyl tablecloth I had picked up to protect my bedding, and thought to lay it out on the bed before crawling back in.
Around this point the sky was lightening, and so was my denial. I was in labour. I really was, I had to admit it. All in all, it had been a long but calm and peaceful night. The sensations had been steady and strong, but nothing that really shook me. I laid in bed and moaned through them, and focused on staying loose and relaxed from my head to my toes. I rested in between, drifting in and out of sleep or something close enough to it.
When the dawn finally came, things were intense. I had the tablecloth laid out, and I decided that now that it was morning I would need to do what I had to do to allow this birth process to progress. Gravity… that was the only thing that came to mind, so I got up on all fours and crawled around on the bed a little on my hands and knees. And then, something crazy happened. I had had an epidural at 6cms with my son’s birth, and I never experienced pushing. Now, it took at least 3 or 4 crazy, uncontrollable, earth shaking sensations before I realized that my body was pushing for me, whether I liked it or not. I had no idea how long this would go on for and I didn’t want to get too tired too fast, so I changed position to sitting on the bed with my back against the wall, and one hip kind of raised. Another huge, uncontrollable, full-body sensation/push came, and then another – during which I am making sounds I have never in this life heard before, and in between telling myself, out loud, somewhat hysterically, “It’s okay! You’re okay! It’s okay! You’re okay!” Oh yeah, and my water breaks, which is really exciting, because of course with my first birth they broke my waters shortly after I was admitted to the hospital.
I have to note here that at this point it is probably 7:30am and our 2.5 year old son has woken up. It is Christmas morning – the Christmas I have been hyping up for the past 2 months (okay 3). He’s super, duper, ultra stoked. And I am upstairs mooing and shouting “You’re okay!” to myself like a crazy person. So hubs is at this moment taking care of our son, managing the Christmas morning situation as best he can, working on getting the house warmed up and listening to his wife currently giving birth/becoming possessed. He keeps running upstairs to check on me, and I take these moments as opportunities to cheer him on. “You’re doing great!” I say. I am completely manic, high as fuck. This is awesome.
So I’m uncontrollably pushing, and chanting and mooing in my bed, and then I feel the legendary “ring of fire”. This is the only moment in the whole process where I feel a bit of fear. “Oh shit,” I think “oh Jesus, this is intense, and I am alone, aand how long is this gonna last because I doooon’t liiiiike thissss….” And then another big surge, and BAM – head! A baby head! Holy fucking shit! A baby head!! I’m in complete shock, totally flying on adrenaline & endorphins, and I don’t even think to call my husband, who is down in the basement, still trying to get the house heated up by putting more wood on the fire. I vaguely remember hearing my son say “I wanna open my presents!” as another big surge came and the little body came sliding out. I honestly don’t remember if I caught her or if she landed on the bed and I scooped her up. All I know is one moment I was pregnant and in labour, and the next moment I was holding a baby and shouting at the top of my lungs. My husband ran into the room and there I was, sitting on a wet and bloody tablecloth in the middle of our bed, holding a beautiful baby girl covered in vernix. I think I sat there exclaiming “I had a baby! I did it! I had a baby!” over and over again for awhile until I finally settled down a bit, and the three of us hugged and kissed and admired our new addition and celebrated our completely-not-what-we-had-planned Christmas morning power outage home birth.
Ocean was born around 8:00am. By 9:00 Yolande had arrived, and she helped me squat to birth the placenta into a glass bowl from our kitchen. I was feeling really over pushing at this moment, but Yo also recognized that I was looking a little drained and pale, and she encouraged me that it wouldn’t hurt and would be a relief. She didn’t pressure me to move any faster than I was ready, and a little while after one half-attempt, I gave a real push and the placenta came out easily, without any pain. I started to feel more comfortable right away with the birth process complete, and we left the placenta in the bowl with Ocean’s cord intact for another half hour or so.
Natalie, my other birth attendant, also arrived shortly after the birth and helped me get washed up and into a freshly changed bed. Nat then guided us in burning the cord with the flame from 2 candles. This cauterized the stump so there was no need for a cumbersome clamp, and was a nice way to spend a moment taking in the significance of the separation of our baby from the amazing organ that had sustained her through 9 months of life inside the womb. Welcome to the outside, little girl. It sure is different out here.
Two and a half years ago I gave birth to my son in the hospital. In this process, my induction date was booked during my last scheduled checkup for 7 days after my estimated due date (despite my protest). During another appointment, the OB took a black marker to my birth plan as though we were in toe-to-toe negotiations. I had my membranes stripped twice (an extremely painful procedure touted as natural). My membranes were artificially ruptured within an hour of being admitted to the hospital, to speed up the labour process. I was restrained to bed in order to remain attached to the the fetal heart rate monitor, was continually pressured to accept Pitocin in order to further speed up the process (even though this raises the risk of c-section dramatically), and eventually accepted an epidural as an attempt to stall and cope. At 5 minutes to 5:00pm (a mere 7 hours after being admitted) I delivered a 7lb 6oz baby boy (after having been sent for multiple ultrasounds because he was thought to be under weight). The vacuum extractor was used as our OB was quite sure that the cord was likely wrapped around baby’s neck, causing distress. It wasn’t. His cord was cut immediately despite my wishes for delayed clamping so that he could receive every bit of the last transfusion from the placenta, and he was promptly whisked away to the NICU where he spent his first 24hrs under observation for congested lungs.
After 2 days we brought home a healthy baby boy and I was completely shell shocked. I remember at our 2 week checkup admitting to the Doctor that I didn’t feel bonded with the baby. Things started to get better at around 6 weeks, thank goodness.
My pregnancy with Ocean was free of interference. I decided early on I would have no procedures done unless there was cause for concern. No ultrasounds or Doppler, no internal exams or cervical checks. I took good care of myself and tried to stay tuned in to the baby. I had the wonderful support of Yolande and Natalie, who were always available to answer my questions, encourage me, and help me find peace when I was feeling worried. Her birth may not have been exactly what we planned, but it was incredibly perfect. I feel so blessed. I really hoped that this would be the healing experience I needed, but was afraid of putting too much emphasis on this. In the end, I got everything I hoped for and more. Maybe I was lucky in part to have a completely uncomplicated and relaxed experience, but I believe Ocean’s birth is a wonderful reminder that women are built to grow babies and to give birth. I’ve received a lot of lovely comments from friends & family about how amazing I am, and I really want to emphasize that there is nothing amazing about this story, except that human reproduction is completely amazing in every way, always.
Post-birth I am doing really well. Physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually I am far more intact and at peace than after my sweet boy was born. He thrived then and continues to do so now, but I was hurt and disappointed on many levels. After spending 3 years reading about birth, I have now experienced for myself what a comfortable environment and empowered mother can do for the birth process. Because no one was checking my dilation, talking to me about my “progress” or pressuring me to accept different interventions, I got to experience the incredible fetal ejection reflex. I feel restored and reaffirmed in my strong belief that this was the healthiest way to bring my child into the world.
This was so long and I don’t know how many people could possibly still be reading, but it was important for me to take the time to write this story and try to illustrate how normal birth is, and how important it is for us to treat it that way. Thanks to my two amazing traditional birth attendants for their unconditional support and exceptional work to make New Brunswick a safe and supportive place for mothers, and to my partner for so expertly holding down the fort and leaving me to do my thing at my own pace.
Thanks for reading! Sorry for the profanity but there are some situations in life that really do require swearing like a sailor.