I can't believe it's been nearly two weeks since Ian Archer made his much-longed-for appearance and I am only just now sitting down to write our birth story. Hopefully I have not forgotten too many of the details as the result of post-partum amnesia because it was certainly an experience I want to remember--pain and all--for the rest of my life.
The story of Ian/Archer's birth (we still haven't quite settled on what this little boy will be called), really began two days before his arrival, on Wednesday, May 4th. I was already six days overdue and getting anxious and impatient. Up until that point I had been pretty sanguine about waiting for nature to take its course. Every day the baby was late was just one more day I had to do crafts, putter about the house, and read novels. But by six days overdue I was anxious that if he put off his arrival much longer he would be a really big boy. Babies supposedly gain half a pound a week just before birth, and at four days overdue, Colin was already 7 pounds 14 ounces. I didn't relish the thought of an eight pounder. More importantly, I was eager to have this baby before my mom arrived in town on Thursday, as I hadn't told her about our plans to have a homebirth until a few days before, and she had not been at all enthusiastic about the idea.
As I laid all this out at my weekly appointment with my midwife, she became concerned: having someone present at a homebirth who is not comfortable with the idea is a recipe for disaster, she said. So, after some discussion, she agreed to sweep my membranes that day, and, if that didn't work, on the following day she'd give a naturopathic remedy to induce labour, a "cocktail" of lemon verbena, castor oil and apricot juice. As she was doing the sweeping, she felt the baby's head and noticed that, like his big brother before him, this baby was posterior--face up. This added to both our concerns because Colin's less-than-ideal position had caused me such painful back labour that I had begged for an epidural at only 5 centimetres. And, of course, at a homebirth, there would be no epidural. So, my midwife, Marie, sent me home with orders to practice my prenatal yoga poses to help turn the baby.
Thursday came and with it a few little contractions but still no baby. Kevin and I met Marie and our student midwife, Teylia, to do a mandatory non-stress test before she could give us the recipe for the induction. But before we left, Marie said I should really hold off on taking it until the next morning. "Go home, have a nice dinner with your mom, and then get a good night's sleep," she said, "and I think you'll be much better prepared for having this baby." Turns out, it was a very wise prescription, and I'm so glad I followed it, because that's exactly what happened.
We picked up my mom at the airport a few hours later, and once she got back to our house and saw the birth room--complete with bed, birthing tub, a sunny window, and a dozen pink roses, she said, "You know, I think this is probably a really good idea." I think her approval really set me at ease and helped this baby come on his own. That evening, we had a lovely dinner and I slipped off to my prenatal yoga class to do another hour and a half of cat/cow positions and pelvic swirls to help flip the baby. Then we all turned in early for a good night's sleep.
Marie, Teylia and Johanna enjoy a cup of tea after the birth.
Marie and Teylia weigh big boy Ian Archer: 8 pounds, 9 ounces!
Just a few hours later, at 2:00 a.m., I woke with my first good, strong contractions. I stayed in bed for the next hour counting them at about 7 minutes apart before I woke up Kevin, and then we went downstairs to start the day. I spent the next hour in the kitchen prepping food for after the birth until the contractions became about 3 minutes apart, at which point I called Teylia to give her the head's up that we'd be having a baby that day. Since the contractions weren't very strong, she suggested I lie down for a bit instead of wasting energy on kitchen chores. So I popped in the Hypnobirthing CDs I'd been practising with for the past several months, lay down on the couch, and prepared to work on my breathing until it became really necessary to call in the midwives.
This was simultaneous the best and the worst thing I could have done: best because I completely zoned out for the next two hours as I just sort of gave myself over to each contraction, and worst, because I only snapped out of it a when I felt the urge to push and I called out in a panic for someone to please call the midwives ASAP! Unfortunately, they lived 45 minutes away, so it was Teylia, the student midwife, who arrived first to find me completely dialated. Fortunately, she didn't tell me this or I might have panicked. Instead, she suggested I get into the birth tub if I felt like it.
Did I feel like it? It was heaven! Kevin had filled it up nice and hot, and as soon as I stepped inside I instantly felt the pain cut in half. And thank God, because at this point my water broke and I was soon deep in transition labour with the contractions coming every couple of minutes and requiring all of my concentration to breathe through the pain.
Ian Archer is handed to me just seconds after birth.
Minutes later we're resting on the bed.
One of the things that surprised me most about this labour was how much I wanted to be left alone to work through my contractions. I had thought that I would want people doing a lot of things to me and for me: massaging my back, telling me which positions would be most helpful, helping me to count through each contractions. In fact, that was what led me to seek out midwifery care in the first place: so I could have that continuous support. But nothing could have been further from my mind at the time. Other than asking Kevin to fetch me glass after glass of ice water, I just wanted to be left alone--I even complained about the midwives checking my dilation and the baby's heartbeat. I didn't want anyone touching me.
At some point during this transition Marie arrived, and I have never been so grateful to see someone's face. She told me that the baby was already crowning and that if I changed positions so that I was floating on my back (I had been folded over the side of the tub at this time), he would be out in no time.
Well, "no time" in midwife parlance is perhaps a little different than in labouring-mother parlance, but our birth record shows that I began pushing around 7:45 a.m. and Ian Archer was born at 8:10 a.m. Although it seemed like a long time at that moment, compared to the two-and-a-half hours I pushed with Colin--all to no avail--this was "no time," indeed. And despite the fact that I laboured completely without pain medication, this was still the easier--and gentler--of the two births. Kevin says that when Ian Archer's head finally emerged in the water--face down, just as he should be--he took a good, calm look around before deciding it was safe to come all the way out. And once he did, the midwives put him on my chest, where he rested gently for a few moments before taking his first big breath in the soft light of the new morning.
Ian Archer gets his first check-up.
Home was a great place to give birth.
In the past two weeks I've thought a lot about the whole experience, and as far as I'm concerned it couldn't have gone better. I spent so much time in the months leading up to the birth worrying about how I would manage the pain because I had been so ill-equipped to deal with the pain of Colin's birth. With Colin, when the contractions started coming on strong, I just wanted to flee from the pain. But with Ian Archer, I remained calm and relaxed throughout the whole process, breathing through each contraction, resting as much as possible between them, and when the pain became challenging and I started to scream, I switch my voice to a low moan which helped me conserve energy and keep my wits about me.
In retrospect, only the pushing had been truly painful and at the time I was not afraid of it, I only wanted to "push" through it. In fact, I didn't actively push at all--not as women do in the movies and not like the nurses and doctors coached me to push in the hospital--my body did it all on its own. I just went with it. It was a lot like riding a really big roller coaster, where pushing was just the highest peak: You can't escape it, you just hang on and try not to lose your lunch.
[At this point in our narrative, Kevin pops in to remind me that I was seriously screaming at this stage of labour: "Baby come down! Baby come down!" and "I need this baby out NOW! Marie, can't you just pull him out?!" To which I say, sure, but I'm the one telling this story, Honey.]
Although I'm sure the ease of this birth had a lot to do with the fact that it was my second labour and second labours are generally much, much easier than first labours, I give a lot of credit to the fact that I was able to deliver in the comfort of my own home and to Marie, who embodied the ideal of a midwife--or sagefemme ("wise woman") in French. From early on in my pregnancy she insisted I improve my diet and get better rest, so that I was in great shape for the rigors of labour, unlike before my first labour, where I worked right up through my due date and stayed up all night the night before Colin was born, cleaning the house. Then toward the end of my pregnancy, Marie coached me on how to get the baby into a good delivery position--something my obstetrician never mentioned prior to my delivery with Colin. (Coincidentally, Vicky over at Coffee and Milkies has an interesting theory about obstetricians and birth positions, which I think is dead on.)
Colin gets his first look at his baby brother, while Mama enjoys breakfast in bed.
Marie also showed great foresight in urging me to wait a day before taking the verbena cocktail. Although it is a natural remedy and much less strong that a medical induction like Cervadil or Pitocin, it is still hard on the system. The only mom in our midwifery care group who took it was violently ill for hours before going into labour, and I'm definitely glad I avoided that. So often we want to control every detail of our lives--even the the birth of our babies. Thanks to modern medicine, we can; however, when we do there are frequently unintended consequences, as I learned when giving birth to Colin.
This time around, I wanted a truly natural birth and that's what I got from start to finish, in just six hours. I'm still amazed that my body could do all that all on its own, so long as I got out of its way. I'm also awed by the results. Within minutes of giving birth, I had delivered the placenta and was on the bed in the birthing room nursing my baby, who was in perfect shape save for some minor bruising on his face, which cleared up in a day or two. Within two hours of giving birth, I was stitched up, showered, and in my own sunshine-y bedroom where Ian Archer and I napped for the next several hours, uninterrupted by nurses and hospital roommates.
And although I did suffer the same degree of tearing I did while giving birth to Colin, my recovery has been so much easier. A few days after Ian Archer's birth, I was walking to the park with both my boys, and, now, 12 days out, I feel completely healed up, unlike the weeks and months it took me to heal after Colin. More importantly, I felt like myself the entire time, not the drugged up, zoned-out person I was in the days after having Colin, and I think this has made me a much better new mother--to both my boys.
In short, giving birth at home with a midwife was one of the most incredible experiences of my life and something I would recommend to anyone planning on having a baby. I will definitely be doing it again ... just not right away ;)