Mommy wars is a lie. Or, why I’m not judging you. Or, let’s all work on owning our feelings.

Alright, so there are now facebook groups with names like “Fed Up With Natural Childbirth” and the term “sanctimommy” gets thrown around a fair bit. It seems that everywhere I turn, there is a woman who is trying her best, and who loves her children more than anyone else ever could, and yet feels judged and less-than. There are women in online unassisted birth communities feeling like failures who must confess if they decide to hire a midwife or obtain an ultrasound. That is very sad. But from where I’m standing, the natural childbirth movement has absolutely nothing to do with judging other women. Let me say it right now: I love you. I respect you. Whoever you are, you are wise, your needs are important, your choices are valid.

The Internet has exploded into a platform for anyone with something to say. Independent online research is now the norm for anyone with a bit of bandwidth, and we are all now exposed constantly not just to the dominant narratives of the mainstream media, but to the musings and opinions of our peers. No doubt, it can get intense, especially when we find ourselves confronted with opposing views from people we trust, or with the latest study showing that everything we’re doing is EXTREMELY FUCKING WRONG. But I want to let it be known ~ right here/right now ~ that from my perspective, participating in and advocating for a natural, non-intrusive and peaceful approach to pregnancy and childbirth is basically about two things: 1. Scientifically, physically – the dangers posed to mother and baby by interfering in the spontaneous physiological process of birth, and 2. Politically – articulating and fiercely protecting every woman’s right to reside over pregnancy and birth. This means instilling a genuine respect for her choices surrounding where, how and with whom she gives birth.

It’s about women owning our bodies, knowing (and truly, being one with) our babies, being the absolute masters of our pregnancies and birth processes, and bucking the notion of any other so-called expert or professional assuming authourity over any of that. If a woman wants to refer to a doctor or midwife during the course of her pregnancy, or if she feels more comfortable giving birth in their presence, sure – wonderful. As long as she is truly supported and empowered to make informed decisions, as opposed to the current standard of belittlement, lies and weighty ommissions.

The voices you hear, that are calling into question the legitimacy of ultrasounds, induction, episiotomies, most c-sections, administering of labour “enhancers” and pain meds, directed pushing, early cord clamping, separation of mother and baby, rigorous rubbing-poking-prodding-hatting of newborn, circumcision, encouragement of “supplementation” via baby formula… These voices are not judging you. You are fine, you are loved. These voices are critiquing a system that has medicalized, problematized, industrialized and attempted to control not just pregnancy and birth, but the female BODY and MIND, to such a degree that a great many women now spend a significant portion of their lives processing the residual trauma, confusion and guilt resulting from interventions that in retrospect seem completely unnecessary, harmful and ultimately degrading.

These interventions (or—excuse me, assaults) can occur without consent, definitely without true “informed consent”, and often even in spite of the mother’s expressed request to abstain. I say request, because very often in our culture a mother timidly and excitedly following her pre-natal care routine must ask permission or plead her case should she not be in favour. They can include, but are by no means limited to:

  • Membrane sweeps (an extremely invasive and painful procedure touted as ‘quick and natural’, whereby the cervix is forcibly stretched – hey, we’re dilating! – and the amniotic sac is ripped from its walls. Can cause bleeding, intense cramping, and premature labour)
  • Scheduled induction – conveniently booked “just in case” during your 39 week check-up (now being systematically pushed on many women at the 41 week mark. This is a terrible lie since a) many do not know their true conception date, especially considering the fact that sperm can live inside a woman for up to 5 days, b) different bodies and babies require different periods of gestation to reach “term” c) it is dangerous to the baby and significantly increases mom’s likelihood of ending up in emergency surgery, and d) much of this is being done to women because it is convenient for doctors and it gives the hospitals total control over the baby’s birth – which has now become a medical procedure – and thus, management of liability)
  • Planned cesareans (for a variety of reasons, the vast majority of which are scientifically unfounded. There are rare instances when a cesarean section is truly a lifesaving emergency measure. The epidemic of the “unnecessarean” diminishes a woman’s trust in, and I would argue love for, her body and prevents her from knowing its true power to finish what it started when it moves her baby into the world at just the right time, in just the right way. This experience is an integral part of the transition from growing the fetus to mothering the child, enormous for a first-time mom. And for the baby, from life inside the womb to life in the world.)

Even deep in the most primal throes of the childbirth process, most women must dig deep and find the additional strength and focus to argue with the professionals present in order to avoid some level of intervention – and this applies to many homebirth midwives (medwives inextricably linked to the same rigid, paternalistic system of birth management) as well as the more obvious hospital scenario. All of these commonplace interferences in modern day childbirth have short and long term effects which we are only just starting to comprehend, and scientific journals are pointing to the potentially far-reaching negative impacts of ultrasound on the cells of a developing fetus, and of cesarean section on a baby’s intestinal flora (which we now know is hugely important to a strong immune system).

For many, it’s about opting out of a system that has eroded women’s power throughout this process (a time when she is naturally at her peak in terms of intuitiveness and strength) to the degree that it is no longer tolerable to participate. It’s about calling out a systematic degradation of femininity and motherhood, and making an effort to make available important evidence weighing against the contemporary conveyor-belt approach to pregnancy, birth and beyond. It is not about targeting, shaming or judging any woman for her experiences or choices. You are wise, your needs are important, your choices are valid.

I do not actually care what kind of birth you have, whether you elect for a c-section because of personal fears, or you orgasmically eject a baby from your glorious henna’ed yoni in an Appalachian stream with a ceremonial llama in attendance. I don’t really care if you cut your baby’s cord immediately post-birth, or salt it and carry it around in a red hand-stitched velvet sac for four days in the spirit of lotus birth. I don’t care if you and your baby are injected with Rhogam, DTap, Hep B, Vit K, Pitocin, Oxytocin and whatever else is on the menu, or if you never see the inside of a hospital during your entire pregnancy. I don’t care if you have 5 ultrasounds or choose to connect with your baby simply by listening and visualizing. Whether you beg for induction at 40 weeks or remain cool as a cucumber (but secretly want to kill yourself) at 43 weeks+2, and if you give up on breastfeeding on day one or nurse your child through elementary school, these personal choices don’t shape your intelligence, your worth or my opinion of you, because that is what they are –personal choices.

Now… does this mean I withhold all judgment from any and all practices? C’mon, we all know that that would be a big ol’ “HELL NO”. I do judge the pharmaceutical companies who invent solutions to problems that must then be invented afterwards. I do not believe formula to be equivalent to breastmilk, and I judge Nestle and Similac, and the doctors who encourage new mothers to supplement with formula, when they know damn well (or should) that this will completely undermine her breastfeeding efforts and ultimately set her and her babe up for failure. I judge our culture’s appropriation of the female breasts as sex objects for male enjoyment, and the false notion that breastfeeding ‘isn’t for everyone’ (and yes, I do acknowledge and have empathy for the women who are not able to breastfeed. Still, this condition is overrepresented in public discourse when what is actually happening most of the time is a lack of knowledgeable support). I judge our cultural acceptance of routine infant circumcision and firmly believe this is wrong, and a huge transgression on the rights of baby boys who cannot defend themselves, and that we need to unlearn the misunderstandings behind this grotesque practice so that it can be eradicated from our society. I judge a system in which women are led to fear-based, emergency-trained medical professionals for what should literally be the most natural thing in the world, and I judge the system that routinely makes us feel inadequate, unprepared, and in crises when nothing could be farther from the truth.

Still, I don’t judge you, or her. Truth be told, I can’t even find it in my heart to judge the professionals much of the time. We have all been brought up differently. We are all living our truths, and we need to make choices that put us most in alignment with who we aspire to be in our heart of hearts. Mommy wars is a lie, because I actually believe that women mostly love each other, and because having different ideas and experiences doesn’t put us in the trenches.

The Internet has made it possible for us to share information and speak out with abandon. This is a good thing, and feeling challenged is the optimal environment for self-reflection, learning and growth. If something has you feeling really triggered, really defensive, that is a perfect opportunity to examine your values and decide whether you want to hold steadfast to them or let in a new way of thinking. I truly believe that if we are confident in our choices the opinions of others, much less others we don’t know, can’t offend. It’s when we’re not sure that it hurts. So may I suggest we all forget about the so-called mommy wars and begin to take accountability for our feelings? In 2015, I would really like to not see the term “sanctimommy” perpetuated. Let’s banish it, and own our shit. It will make us stronger, I promise.

I’d love to hear what you think. And just for reading to the end, here’s a random picture of me & the kids at Peggy’s Cove. You’ll have to let your imagination fill in the scenery. I don’t have a selfie pole 🙂

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A nightcap for little sickos

I’ve experimented quite a bit over the past year with some of the different fermented drinks you can make at home — namely milk kefir, water kefir and kombucha. My feeling is that they all have their time and place, and water kefir and kombucha are both great to have on hand in the summertime for a sweet, fizzy drink, as a nice treat. I do find the sugar content to be quite a lot though, and have been hibernating the cultures for both of those until the warmer months. There is also debate as to whether kombucha is safe for breastfeeding mothers, and although I don’t tend to worry too much about that sort of thing, I’m just not really feeling it right now. I actually believe I’ve reached a state of “fermentation fatigue”, which I predict will become a nation-wide affliction in 2015. This year, I’m planning to stick with the basics: sourdough, sauerkraut and milk kefir.

I’ve probably had the grains in a bottle of sour milk in the back of my fridge for at least six months, but now that Ocean is one (big girl!!) and eager to taste and try whatever she can get her hands on, I’ve been putting milk kefir back into steady production. It really is like magic; so good, so satisfying and so easy. I use whatever I have on hand for milk, be it from cow, goat or nut (although I mostly use real milk to keep my grains plump and healthy). I would opt for raw milk in a cool heartbeat if I had a nearby source, but for now, I seem to rotate among all of the convenient options: organic whole homogenized, organic whole un-homogenized, goat’s milk, conventional cow’s milk. Whatever. I actually see this as a way of infusing a bit of love into the denatured store bought milk that is otherwise nutritionally questionable to say the least, or really very bad for you if I’m being honest. Yeah, I still buy it. Kid likes his glass of milk at night, what are you gonna do.

Jackson had a bit of a cold recently, and while I don’t love giving dairy during a cold (as it can create inflammation and mucous in the body), he wanted a glass of milk to drink with his bedtime stories. I decided I’d feel better about giving him a nice, warm, probiotic sleepy time treat, and he sipped it with so much pleasure that I wanted to share. Milk kefir is just the greatest stuff, so good on its own, so good in smoothies, and so good as a nighttime sweet treat for little sickos. It’s also said to colonize the gut with healthy bacteria in a more long-term sense than yogurt, the effects of which are supposedly very temporary. I’m not going to try to position myself as one of those health bloggers who pretends to know everything about everything, because frankly they irk me (bless them and their recipes). For the record, I’m not trying to position myself as a health blogger at all… or even a blogger really. I don’t actually know what I’m doing here and I’m not sure why you’re still reading this. In anyhow! Google will turn up tons of interesting facts about all this stuff, that may or may not back up anything I have said. 🙂

Ok here we go. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine:

  • 1 cup of milk kefir
  • 1 tsp raw honey
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • dash of nutmeg

Stir your magic sleepytime potion until the honey is mixed in and it is just warm enough for tender young lips to touch. You don’t want to overheat it, as this would damage the good stuff in the kefir and honey. Definitely double this recipe as you will want to cheers your love and sip away together over bedtime stories.

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I know you can buy kefir at the store, but this stuff is expensive and not nearly as potent as what you can easily and cheaply make on your own kitchen counter. To make your own milk kefir, all you need are: kefir grains (not real grains, btw, but a bacterial live culture that looks like tiny gummy cauliflowers), milk, a jar, a breathable cloth, an elastic band, a non-metal strainer.

Once you’ve got your hands on all those things it’s as easy as this:

  • put your milk kefir grains in a glass jar (about 1 quart size)
  • fill the jar with milk, leaving an inch or 2 of space
  • cover with cloth and elastic band
  • leave on counter for approx. 24hrs
  • strain out the grains, bottle and refrigerate the kefir, and start again (If you want to take a break, simply cover the grains with milk and store in a jar in the fridge. The cold will slow down the fermentation process and they will stay happy for a couple of weeks or so)

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Et voila! There’s a learning curve, but don’t sweat it. You really, honestly, can’t go wrong. If it’s iffy, put it in a smoothie. If it’s rank, give it to your dog. If it’s a little bit creamy and just the right tangy-ness, yum! You did it! Drink it straight or stir in some maple syrup for an alternative (or companion) to your morning coffee. Cultures for Health provides awesome how-to videos on their website that will walk you through these steps in about 3 min.

Hope you try it! Feel free to hit me up with any questions about making milk kefir, or suggestions on how to combat fermentation fatigue!!!

The dark side of mothering… the stuff that keeps you up at night.

What will my children remember of me when I am old, or… eventually, gone? Will they look back on their childhoods and remember being loved, cherished, cared for and delighted in? Or will they recall my tired face, my “maybe later”s, my “I Do Not Want to Have to Tell You AGAIN!!!”s

I had a bad morning today. A terrible morning. The kind of morning where I watched myself bulldoze over pretty much every gentle parenting philosophy or boundary I have thoughtfully put into place. The kind of morning that ended with everyone crying, and me knelt down, saying to my 3.5 year old: “You do not deserve to be treated like that. It is not your fault. Mommy is tired, and sick, and sad, and she failed you when you needed her. I’m so, so, so sorry. All I can say is that I’m sorry, and I am going to try to do so much better. It is not your fault.”

Apologies don’t change the fact that we messed up, and that our actions have consequences. When you’re a parent, the weight of these consequences can feel pretty damn huge. Terrifyingly huge. When you mess up as bad as I did today, there is nowhere to go but up. If you ever find yourself looking at your sweet little one through tears of shame and regret, there is nothing to do but slam the breaks on and try to make sure they know that it is not their fault. I know that this is not good enough, but unfortunately sometimes, it is as good as it gets. We are human, some of us have more baggage than others, and parenting is no effing joke. For everyone who has stumbled, and gotten dirty and scraped up on this journey, and who continues to pick themselves up and do the best they can for their children every day, I am here for you.

I want to get into the concept of judgement later on in a separate post. I think many of us project the nagging pull of our own self-doubt onto the world, and I think that if we can reframe that, we can maybe breathe a small collective sigh of relief. But for now, I just want to send out into the universe a special peace offering to my son (who is, incidentally, nowhere near old enough to read…)

I came across this journal entry tonight and was so thankful for the instant, visceral flashback to when my first baby was just 4 months old. Kids: when I’m old, or even when I’m gone, I promise I will remember everything. And I will love you unconditionally in my messy, honest way, forever and ever.

***

September 23, 2011

Dear Jackson,

It’s 1:30pm and you’re napping. It’s a warm, humid, cloudy day and you’re feeling sleepy today. This is your third cat-nap since you got up at quarter to eight this morning. Last night you gave me a wonderful treat – you slept soundly from 8pm to 4am (8hours!) then nursed and went back to sleep until around 7:30am. My sweet baby boy…. Thank you. Mommy really needed that.

You turned 4 months old this week and I love watching you grow bigger, stronger, wiser. Your skills and personality are developing and multiplying before my eyes. You love music (Chuck Berry and Guns N Roses are your favourite this week… you are your father’s son. (Chuck I approve of, but GNR?? I just hope you show L. Cohen the same appreciation when you’re old enough to understand lyrics).

You love to stand up on your feet. Love it. I’m starting to wonder if you’ll ever bother to crawl, because you have no interest in lying down at all, whatsoever, unless to sleep. You just want to be on your sweet fat feet all the time, smiling and squealing with delight as you hold tight onto my fingertips or your daddy’s.

You drool and chew on your hands incessantly. No sign of teeth yet. I am not looking forward to seeing those little white chompers peeking through. I just know you’re gonna be a biter.

You have beautiful strawberry-blonde hair and gorgeous blue eyes. You are long, tall and strong. My boy. I love you so much.

A hug and a kiss,
Your mom
Xo

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A piece of advice to new moms: don’t make breastfeeding goals

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If I could offer just one piece of advice to breastfeeding moms it would be this: don’t have goals. Don’t tell yourself you will nurse your child until 6 months, or 9 months, or a year, or two years. Don’t tell yourself you will nurse in public, maybe with a fancy cover/boob tent until you get brave enough to ‘NIP’ (as the mommy boards like to say) without it.

Instead, assume that your breastmilk will nourish your child with the same unconscious and total confidence with which you assume you will wake up in the morning. Assume you will breastfeed your child in public, because often you will be in public, and often your baby will need to nurse while you are in public, and it is really just a no-brainer. Assume that you and your sweet nursling will have your struggles along the way, and do not hesitate to seek out support for challenges such as nipple pain, poor latch, strong let down, dip in supply, nursing strike, plugged ducts, or mastitis (IBLCs, La Leche League, and peer support groups are all great resources to help get you through any hard times) .

Assume that you will continue on with this essential relationship until your child’s nutritional needs are fully supported by healthy, whole foods, your emotional bond is strong enough to support the transition, and you no longer feel they need you in that way. I’ll let you decide what that means for you; for me, it meant around 18 months with my son, after a couple of attempts to night-wean where it was clear to me that he wasn’t yet ready, and one final attempt where I could simply tell that he was. With my daughter, who knows? maybe we will be done at one year, maybe 18 months, maybe 3 years. I have no goals.

There is a lot of energy out there in support of breastfeeding, and breastfeeding in public, and of course I understand why. It is my belief, however, that this does in some way detract from the more important message, which is that breastfeeding is not only the most normal and natural thing in the world, but a completely necessary and inherently engrained aspect of child-rearing. Human babies survive on breast milk. This milk is produced by a mother’s mammary glands for this purpose (hence “mammals”). Why on earth would you not give this to your baby? What discussion is really necessary? I don’t feel the need to advocate for breastfeeding in any way, or celebrate my own breastfeeding relationships, because I really do think it is a very simple part of life that deserves little to no attention. I do realize that some women have been harassed, but this has never been my experience. I honestly don’t think I would even notice if someone did look at me funny while I nursed my child in public, because other people — and the utterly ridiculous possibility of somehow upsetting them — are not even on my radar during that moment.

My personal stance, then, is that we need to respect mothers, and babies, and the simple act of breastfeeding as the essential building block that it is by just completely getting on with it. There is absolutely no way of knowing what minute percentage of mothers are actually physically unable to breastfeed because this determination is so muddled in misunderstanding. Sadly, far too many women are unnecessarily confused and deterred by the terrible advice and scare tactics of misinformed physicians. Forget the growth charts. Formula doesn’t exist. Of course you will make it to 6 months! Of course you will nurse in public! And one day, when you are in the car with your family on a spontaneous  road trip, or lazily nursing your child in bed, or during a power outage, you may marvel at the simplicity and ease and miracle of it all. But you won’t congratulate yourself, because you never for one second expected anything different.

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(I love this photo of me and my son. I look so confused, bordering on a state of shock, and the milk spot on my shirt, general surrounding mayhem, and perfectly blissed-out & oblivious baby are so illustrative of the fourth trimester for new moms~!)

If I could offer TWO pieces of advice to breastfeeding moms, it would be the above, and also this gem: learn to stop leaks by applying gentle counter-pressure to the entire nipple/areola area during let down. Just cover the baby-free breast with your forearm or the palm of your hand and press down until let down sensation subsides. Voila! Discrete, fool proof, dry. No bra or stupid nursing pads necessary… or receiving blankets shoved down the front of your shirt if, you know, you’re as ‘together’ as me. It took me two children and a combined two years of breastfeeding to figure that one out. Don’t make fun of me.

Ocean’s birth

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.


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