From Tragedy to Tranquility
By Jamie McRae
My name is Jamie McRae, and I have six children. I have had almost every birth experience known to man and midwife. I have learned so much- especially how birth is not supposed to be. With each subsequent child I learned a bit more; and ultimately, I was empowered with the deep knowledge of what Mother Nature intended for childbirth: peace, tranquility, quiet, calm, candlelit dark- deep, nonintrusive privacy is my birthing at its best.
My oldest boy, Chris, was born when I was nineteen years old. I was totally uneducated- in those days (seventeen years ago), there wasn’t a lot of prenatal education. But since I had been closely involved in my aunt’s pregnancy and birth, I thought I knew all I needed to know about birth and babies. I had a bit of spotting early on- the spotting episodes were four weeks apart, and everyone thought I was miscarrying- but it turned out that my pregnancy was fine (this kind of bleeding early in a pregnancy is actually quite common- it’s called lunar spotting). Early one morning, as I was running to the phone, my water broke in a major gush- I wasn’t scared, since this is the way my aunt’s birth started. Soon there was water everywhere! I was huge and uncomfortable, and in no mood to clean it all up, so I ran to the tub to drain in there, leaking even more water as I ran. But when I stood in the tub, the water stopped coming out- and when I stepped out again, it leaked even more! I was so excited. I called the doctor- he told me to come in when I felt ready. He was really quite liberal (women are still told to rush into the hospital soon after their waters have broken). I had packed for the hospital the night before, by coincidence- I seemed to do this with all of my babies. When I felt ready, I called my girlfriend and she took me and my partner Chris to the hospital.
When I got there, they gave me an internal exam. They said I had quite a ways to go, and should just go have some lunch. So the three of us went to White Spot. While I was there, I really had to pee- but there was only one stall in the bathroom, and the person inside was taking forever- I asked her to please hurry; but she was nursing her baby and refused to come out until she was ready. I begged her- I really had to pee!- I told her I was soon going to be a mother too, that I would give birth that night; and she was just sitting on the floor- I would pee in front of her if I had to (and I am very discreet). But she refused. I had to wait at the table until she came out.
After we were done at the restaurant, we wandered around the hospital grounds for awhile. We didn’t want to go inside the hospital- this was late August, in the middle of a heat wave, and the air conditioning had broken down in the hospital- it was cooler outside. After a while, we went in anyway, even though my sensations weren’t really strong. I was admitted. At about two in the morning, after about twelve hours of slow progression, I was told to go and watch some TV, way at the other end of the hospital. It was strangely haunting walking through the hospital so late at night, with everything so dark, and everyone sleeping.
I was lying on the couch in the TV room for no more than twenty minutes when suddenly, I felt a weird, deep, guttural sensation that I couldn’t put words to (I know now it was the urge to push). I put my hand between my legs and I felt a wet warmth. I looked at my hand and noticed it was blood- I freaked. Chris wanted to go and get a wheelchair and push me back the maternity ward. But there was no way he was leaving me alone! So we inched our way back- it seemed like forever. I was dripping a little trail of blood as we were walking, and I made Chris clean up after me as we went along with some paper towels he grabbed from a wall dispenser.
When we finally got there, I told the maternity nurses that something had changed – they got me onto the table and checked me; he was crowning. They called the doctor- luckily he lived in the same block as the hospital. He got there just in time to cut me. In those days, everyone got an episiotomy- they even told me to stop pushing so he could be there in time. He cut me, and the baby came out instantly. He was born three weeks early- but there was no concern, because we were both so big (he was 7 lb. 10 oz, and I gained forty pounds in my pregnancy ). I was only able to breastfeed baby Chris for a couple weeks. I wonder if it had something to do with that White Spot incident? Maybe I thought that since nursing had to be done so awkwardly, discreetly and privately, it wasn’t for me.
My daughter Amber was born fourteen months later. This time, I only gained fourteen pounds. I already happened to be in the hospital when it was time for her to be born: baby Chris was in the isolation ward in the pediatric section of the hospital with severe gastroenteritis when my water broke- I told the nurses my water was leaking. They suggested I go down to the labor ward to confirm it was actually amniotic fluid; it was. They sent me back to be with my son until I was in active labor. A few hours later, I went back to be checked. And when they found out my son was in isolation, I was not allowed to go back to be him, or put him to sleep. I wasn’t even allowed in the room; I was very upset. It was very hard for me to give birth to another child when I couldn’t even care for my first baby, and only see him through glass. My doctor had told me to call him when I felt like I was close, since he had barely made it in time for Chris’ birth. I was assessed to be only three centimetres dilated, but just like with my first birth, my labor suddenly changed – things were intensifying instantly. I told the nurses to call the doctor, but they said no- I wasn’t far enough along. This was even after telling them my history- and one of the nurses had even attended me at my first birth. So I waddled over to the pay phone and called him myself. Ten minutes later he showed up- and he didn’t even have time to gown up before the baby was born. I had told him before that I didn’t want another episiotomy, and didn’t get one. They injected me right away with pitocin (artificial oxytocin)- to speed up the birth of my placenta- but when I couldn’t stop bleeding, they gave me an IV with even more pitocin.
My older baby was discharged the same day I was- two days later. I had gone to the hospital with one baby, and came home with two. Amber was born early, too- two weeks before my due date, and she nursed the same as Chris- for only a couple of weeks. At the time, I didn’t know the benefits of breastfeeding, and nobody else around me was breastfeeding. And since I had such a tough time with Chris, I didn’t see the point in persevering. I was also encouraged by everybody I knew to bottlefeed.
Six years later, everything in my life had changed: I was in a new relationship; I had matured; everything was very stable, and I was pregnant again- and I thought I knew everything about birth. When my water broke four weeks early, my husband John was at the bar, unreachable. I called his sister Laura. She came over, and we phoned everywhere trying to find him. We couldn’t- but at 11:00, he just happened to phone home. All I said was “my water broke”, and then all I heard was a click.
Twenty minutes later, after what should have been a forty minute drive, the front door opened. He saw my open suitcase on the bed, slammed it shut, grabbed my hand and pulled me to the door before I even had a chance to say one word. I told him that I wasn’t in labor yet, that only my water had broken. But this was his first child, and he had never been around birth before- he was very nervous. So we sat around drinking tea with his sister, waiting for things to get started. John fell asleep, so Laura and I decided to go for a walk. He woke up when we were out walking- he was terrified that I was lying on the sidewalk somewhere giving birth, so he drove around in a panic trying to find us.
We met up eventually. Laura stayed with the kids, and we went to the hospital. I was given a vaginal exam, and waited for things to get started. Twelve hours and lots of pelvic exams later, my labor was still idle- so it was decided that I should be induced: there is fear of infection after a mother’s water has broken and labor doesn’t happen (but the infection doesn’t come from the broken waters; it comes from the mandatory vaginal exam upon hospital admission!). So I was given oral oxytocin to “speed things up”. I found out much later that oral oxytocin is actually not recommended, and is really quite dangerous- you can turn an intravenous unit (IV) down or off, but once you swallow a pill, it’s path through your system is unstoppable.
Every hour, on the hour, one more pill was added to the pile: the first hour I got one; the second hour I got two; the third hour I got three; and so on. My mild sensations quickly grew more intense as the amount of synthetic oxytocin increased in my bloodstream. With oral oxytocin, babies need to be scalp monitored- an electrode was inserted very painfully into my vagina, and hooked into my baby’s head- you could even see the little pinhole marks, they looked like a staple puncture, for a few weeks after he was born. Normally with this type of monitoring, mothers are required to use bed pans to go pee. But I can’t use a bed pan; I’m very private- so I would get up to go to the bathroom. This was very difficult, since I had wires, belts, tubes and a blood pressure cuff hanging off of and out of me. The nurses hated me getting up- they wanted me to lay flat on my back, in bed where they could watch me. But I knew I couldn’t labor on my back- it just doesn’t work that way for me, I have to be upright. The few times I managed to get up, I would tell John and the nurses that my labor was progressing: when I was standing and holding on to John, I could feel the baby moving down, and these sensations felt effective- I could feel my body opening, and preparing for birth: I kept saying, “This feels right’” But they scooted me back to bed, and plugged me back in.
Back in bed, there was no progression- just the same cramping contractions: they were painful, and going uselessly into my back. Then, when I had just been administered the fifth set of oxytocin pills, the baby’s heart decelerated- it went from two hundred beats a minute to sixty. Within a matter of minutes, they were discussing the possibility of my baby dying- I heard snatches of alarmed conversation, as they were putting an oxygen mask on my face- “we can’t pump her stomach”; “has she eaten dinner?”; “we have to get oxygen to this baby”; “we have to do something before these pills are digested.” A waiver form was stuck in front of my face. I’m trying to sign, and people are everywhere- they’re shaving me (John says it looked like they were chopping at me), putting a catheter up my urethra (I screamed in pain), someone was sticking a needle in my leg, someone was putting a blood pressure cuff on my arm, someone strapped my arm to a board and stuck another IV tube in my hand. They told me that if my baby wasn’t taken out of me before the oxytocin is absorbed into my bloodstream, in about fourteen minutes, that my baby would be at very high risk, and I knew they meant of death. Someone was pouring starchy antinauseal fluid into my mouth, other people were taking blood out of my arm, someone was wrapping tape around my fingers and ear lobes because there was no time to get my rings and earrings off. John couldn’t even get at me through this tangle of activity to hold my hand. Incredibly, all of this took place in a sixty second time lapse.
I had never been put under a general anesthetic before, I was terrified of dying- John said later that my face looked as if they wanted to kill me, when they were putting the final gas mask over me. And with all of these wires, tubes, cuffs, needles, straps, monitors, and the catheter hanging out of my naked body, I looked like I was “wired for sound”, as John and I would joke later, trying to hide our pain. They left John standing there helplessly and raced me downstairs to the operating room.
It wasn’t orderly- the room was hastily prepared, and seemed disorganized. The doctors were standing there, gowned and ready. They were making me say my name- the doctor kept saying it incorrectly, and he would make me correct him, over and over. When I was mumbling, I could feel my baby be expelled from me- I felt him leaving my body- there was no pain; I could feel him, dreamlike, leaving me. As I was losing consciousness, I heard a man saying in the background, muffled, as if from a hundred miles away -”boy, six twenty-three”. In the recovery room, the nurses gradually woke me up, and asked me if I knew what had happened. I said, “Yes, I had a boy, and he was six twenty-three” (as in 6 lb., 23 oz). “No,” they said, “he was 6 lb. 13 oz”. I discovered the next morning that 6:23 was the time of his birth. They wheeled me on the bed to my room. On the way, we passed the nursery where my son was sleeping. We stopped, and they handed him to me- but I felt no bonding, no overwhelming love- I was empty of emotion for this little bundle in my arms. He felt like a sack of groceries. There was no cooing, no crying, no lovingly counting the toes on his feet. I just wanted to go back to sleep.
We went home on the fourth day, a day early. For the first twelve days of my baby’s life he wouldn’t wake up to nurse, nor for anything else- he simply never woke up. I had to force-feed him expressed milk with an eye dropper. He was listless, and floppy. John and I would argue each morning over who would have to look in the bassinet, to see if our baby was still alive. On the thirteenth night, we agreed that if we didn’t for once wake up to our baby’s cries, we would take him back to the hospital. And at five in the morning, I heard a little whimper! I jumped out of bed, and held my baby, as if for the first time- I feel that this is when he was really born. We were so relieved, so beautifully overwhelmed- we had been in limbo, going emptily through the motions of life- and now life had begun again. But we would always have problems with breastfeeding- since he had slept through the early critical bonding and learning time, he never could figure out how to latch on properly- I actually had to pump breastmilk for seven months, and give it to him in a bottle. We had rented an electric pump, but I eventually mastered hand expressing- I knew breast milk was important, and economical.
The difficulties of his birth endured: for the first months of his life, I knew he was never developmentally where he should have been: he didn’t sit until he was ten months old; he wasn’t bright, curious, or aware of his environment; he didn’t walk until he was almost sixteen months old. I attribute this to the lack of oxygen in his birth- to the oxytocin pills that made my uterus clamp down so violently that he couldn’t breathe. I shouldn’t have had those pills at all; why didn’t they just leave me alone?
When baby Tyson was seven months old, I conceived Kiah; we had really wanted another pregnancy, and we wanted a girl so much that we researched how to conceive a girl baby: we put John on a “girl sperm producing” diet- and until I got pregnant, he had no beer, no coffee, and no red meat- but fortunately for him, it only took me about two weeks.
At six months pregnant, my doctor (same one) booked an ultrasound for me, and suggested I should have a “Halloween baby”. I was flabbergasted- how could I choose my baby’s birthday? He told me that since my babies would be so close together, I would need another c-section. And since my baby was due November 15, I could have my baby born on Halloween. My jaw dropped. So on the way home, I hit the library, and got some great books- “Pregnancy and the Law”, and a book that changed my life forever- “Silent Knife”, by Nancy Wainer Cohen. I went on a rampage… I phoned my doctor and said to him that I wasn’t having another c-section. I had also realized that I wanted my family present at my birth. He called me the next day, and he tried to barter with me over the circumstances of my own birth. He said he would “let” me have a six hour trial of labor, and that I could only have my parents with me in the room; but I wasn’t even thinking of my parents- they were the last people I would want. I really wanted my children with me- I wasn’t sure where they were supposed to fit in, but I knew I wanted them close. I refused what my doctor wanted- I didn’t want my labor clocked, and I didn’t want to be told who could be with me. So I shopped around for a better birth.
I looked for a better hospital, and a new doctor. I found a labor support person- Kim, and we became friends; we are still very close. She empowered me immensely in my pregnancy and birth; she made me feel strong, and helped me in my searching. Knowing her was a turning point in my life: I realized that every woman needs this sort of support in childbirth, and it made me want to help other women the same way she helped me- which was the first step in my becoming a birth attendant, and secondary midwife. For my birth, I had, after weeks of interrogating various hospitals, decided on St. Paul’s Hospital, in Vancouver. “Silent Knife” helped me write a birth plan- I would want no episiotomy, no cesarean section, no needles, I would want to breastfeed my baby immediately, I would want no hormonal manipulation in the expulsion of my placenta, and, under any circumstances, even if I was begging for them, I would want no drugs (at the hospital, they made me sign a waiver for this one). There were a lot of other details, as well.
At seven months pregnant, I found a new doctor: the old doctor phoned me to come get my ultrasound results, so I went and got the sealed envelope to deliver to my new doctor. On my way, I opened the envelope, and saw the letters “IUGR” on the report- “intra utero growth retardation” (when babies don’t grow well inside the womb). I brought this to the new doctor, with my birth plan. After reading my plan, and hearing me talk about what I wanted from my birth, he told me I was “too damned stubborn not to have a vaginal birth”. That helped me feel confident in him. I also asked him about “IUGR”- but he didn’t tell me what it really meant, nor to what extent my baby was affected. But just to be on the safe side, he confined me to complete bed rest to ensure my baby’s growth, until I could get in for another ultrasound. This was very stressful for me with three small children at home (we even had to bring my mother in to help); but about a week later, a new ultrasound was done, and the results were normal- there was nothing wrong with my baby!- and it was a girl! (Usually, the diagnosis of IUGR is inconclusive- and perfectly fine seven and a half pound babies are born later.)
She came two and a half weeks early: one morning, when I was vacuuming, I felt a trickling down my leg. So I went to the bathroom, and peed while I was trying to put on a pad. I was still sitting on the toilet when I flushed- and a toilet pipe exploded! There was water everywhere- coming out of me, bursting out of the pipe behind the toilet, flooding the bathroom floor- I was trying to put on my pad and mop up the floor with towels at the same time. I called John; apparently he stumbled about dazed for a few minutes in his office before came home. When he saw the mess in the bathroom, he decided to fix the burst pipe, there and then. But he was so flustered that he had to go back and forth to Lumberland three times to get the right parts!
We picked up the kids from school at lunchtime, and went to the hotel room we had previously booked- we really wanted the kids close by for the birth, and the hotel was just across the street from the hospital. So we left the kids with our sitter, walked across the street and got admitted. They put me in bed, and it was discovered upon my first vaginal exam that my baby’s head was still “floating” (not descended). So my sister Jackie, my sister-in-law Laurie, my roommate and his girlfriend, my kids and my husband and me spent the afternoon visiting, since not much was happening with my labor. Later, the woman in the room next to me had her umbilical cord prolapse (descend from the vagina first, this is very rare but can kill the baby)- and this unfortunate event flavored the duration of my birth experience; before, the nurses were casual and friendly with me; after, they were obviously under a lot of stress and a lot more cautious. I suddenly had an IV tube in my arm, had pitocin dripping slowly into my veins, and wasn’t permitted to leave the bed until the baby’s head had descended (common procedure to prevent the cord from prolapsing). I still refused to use the bedpan- when I had to pee, I insisted on locking myself in the bathroom. Once alone, I would consciously move my body in ways that would encourage the descent of my baby: I would dance, swing my hips, and squat to try to bring her head down. The nurses hated this, and would bang on the door. They were angry because they couldn’t monitor me while I was in the bathroom- they wanted me in bed strapped to the fetal monitor, and they would have to unhook me every time I would get up. But I knew that I couldn’t progress while lying in bed! I never have been able to.
Everything went very slowly. At around 3 am, they finally let me out of bed, and I was moved into a huge labor room. I was kneeling on the floor with my chest and head on the bed, swaying my hips and resting between sensations. Slowly, things started to progress- I felt like things were finally moving along. It wasn’t intense, but my laboring felt very effective: it felt like the sensations were bringing the baby down, efficiently and progressively. This went on for a couple of hours. At 5:30 am or so, a Scottish nurse midwife who had just come on shift suggested I sit up straight in a chair, and put my feet up on a step stool; at this time the pitocin level was increased as well (as it had progressively been over the night).
John and Laura were on either side of me, and my sister Jackie was in front of me; Jackie was helping me breathe and retain eye contact as I was struggling to get through my suddenly ferocious pains. During a sensation, I could feel myself blacking out; I was so afraid of this that I would shake my head to try and stay alert. My sister wanted to stop me from doing this- she told me later that she thought I was getting uncontrollable, and going crazy; when it reality I was trying to keep coherent and conscious. Jackie had to keep kicking John to keep him from falling asleep.
And after about forty minutes of piggyback sensations, I said to the nurse- “If I haven’t progressed, cut this baby out of me”. I was so dizzy and blacking out from pain that it took it all four people to get me across and onto the bed. I was eight centimetres dilated; the nurse went to get the doctor. She didn’t even get her hand on the door to leave the room when I screamed “The baby’s coming!” “It can’t be! You’re only eight centimetres!” Another nurse heard me yelling, and came in the room- at this point my baby was fully crowned; there was a huge feeling of panic in the room; everything was moving very fast. The second nurse asked if she should get the doctor; the Scottish nurse midwife said “No- I can handle this one.” Soon as the baby’s head was out, she was yelling at me to stop pushing. I screamed “I can’t!”- my body was refusing to stop pushing. I know exactly what happened next because I saw it all on video later- the nurse was holding my baby’s head, and wiggling and pulling it back and forth to get the shoulders out. I yelled “You’re ripping me!”- and then she made me tear; you can see a sudden big squirt of blood on the video. She did this until the baby was out. Then she picked my baby by one of her legs, while the baby’s head was still on the bed, and wiped her face to get the mucous off. Then she laid the baby on me- her body color was purple, and still had thick, white, cheesy vernix (she was two and a half weeks early).
I felt exhausted. I wanted to call my children right away. The pager had gone off during the birth- they were already trying to contact us. The nurse went to get the doctor after we were all tucked in, and we spent the next few minutes quietly chatting and oohing over the baby. The doctor came soon after and we waited patiently for the placenta to be born, as per my birth plan. When it was out, John cut the cord, and the kids showed up right after that. We had cake. The pain I’d felt was almost unbearable- and I know now that it was because of the pitocin.
Kiah only nursed for about five months, because she kept throwing up. My doctor told me she was allergic to my milk- so he suggested we try different formulas. After two or three months of this, we went to a pediatrician- he said that it wasn’t the milk, but that she had a reflux- she was simply unable to keep milk down (her swallowing reflex hadn’t developed fully because she was born early). There was nothing we could do- all we could do was wait for it to develop. She threw up for ten whole months- as long as it took for her to learn to crawl.
After the birth of Kiah, my labor support friend Kim gave me the phone number of a woman who taught doula courses. I had decided I wanted to be a birth attendant, and help other women in the same way I’d been helped in my pregnancy. So I took a weekend course with Heather Martin, and called a list of local midwives afterwards, asking if I could observe some births to get some experience. Less than a week later I got a call from a midwife at a homebirth asking if I could come and help (most other midwives were at a conference in Japan). I attended that birth, and I decided if I ever had another birth, that’s how I wanted it to be- so peaceful, dignified and private.
My next pregnancy was a welcome surprise- Kiah was only ten months old when I conceived Brody. When I was four and a half months pregnant, I took an “emergency childbirth” course, given with midwives and other birth attendants in mind. Before this conference, I had been speaking to midwives from the MABC (Midwives’ Association of British Columbia), asking if I qualified for a homebirth, but they weren’t sure- because of my previous complications. At the conference, I just happened to be placed beside a lay midwife- I told her what my history was, and how much I wanted a homebirth- and she said to call her if the MABC couldn’t help. They couldn’t, so I did. She came to my house for all the prenatal checks, and got to know the family. John wasn’t comfortable when she came, and tried to sneak out all the time- he got queasy when we talked about birth, blood and placentas; he did not approve of homebirth at all, but went along- because he knew I felt so strongly about it. He would hand her fifty dollars- a small portion of her fee (it was all we could afford)- every time she would come for a visit.
My waters broke three weeks early; I called the midwife and told her; she wasn’t concerned about how early it was because this was natural for me. She came to my house, and for the next two days, I had lots of showers, foot rubs and take-out dinners; we went for long walks- it was a nice visit. But about forty-five hours after my waters had broken, she said we have to start thinking about getting things rolling a little bit quicker- so she recommend extreme, long-term nipple stimulation. John was very excited about this! So everyone went to bed, and we got started; she said to continue stimulation even after I started to feel sensations. This really worked.
After two hours of this, I was in healthy labor. When I got up to pee, I told my midwife what was happening. I went back to my room and sat at the foot of my bed, with my back straight and feet on a stool, in the dark. My midwife would enter the room quietly and respectfully to check for heart tones; I would hardly even notice she was there. John was holding my hand as we were laboring quietly. A couple of hours later, I got up to go pee again. My midwife suggested that since I wanted to be a midwife, I examine my own cervix, just for practice. So I sat on the toilet, and checked- I seemed to be about three centimetres, and I could feel the little top of my baby’s head. I came out and told her what I’d felt- and sat back down with my feet on the stool.
The backup midwife showed up just after midnight or so. She came in and said “hi” and proceeded to go back to sleep on my couch. Things got more intense, and I remember squeezing my fingers into John’s leg (he had bruises the next day). Candles were burning in the dark and comforting room, and everything was very quiet and peaceful. Amber was woken up at this time to be a part of the birth (she was eight and a half years old). Then we all knew that the baby was about to be born. I moved to the top of the bed, and had many pillows support me in a semi-sitting position. My sister was taking stills with the camera. Amber was very quiet and observant as she sat beside me, and my girlfriend Cathy was on my other side, taking a video. John was sitting cross-legged between my legs in shorts. As my birthing time came, everyone started panting and breathing with me; we were all softly chanting “aah! aah! aah!” together. As the baby moved down me, I felt him hit my spine, and I said “My back! My back!” Immediately my midwife’s fist was shoved into the small of my back, and put pressure on to take the pain away instantly. I had always had this pain, but could never isolate in previous births; but with this one, since I had no other pain, and no stress at all in my body- the source of pain was obvious, and treated instantly (it was like this throughout my birth- my needs were intuitively cared for).
I could feel the baby crowning- the “ring of fire”- I said “my perineum’s burning!”- and I could feel myself slightly panic. My midwife drew attention way from my panic and redirected it into bliss: she said: “Reach down and hold your baby’s head”. The amazing feeling of what happened then is difficult to describe: I felt the baby’s soft wet head on the outside, but I could also still feel him on the inside- his feet were moving, and he was wiggling as I touched his head. It was as if you were stirring a sleeping baby. I took my hand away and wiped it on my leg; then the baby slowly moved out and into John’s waiting hands. John was crying and kept softly saying, “my baby, my baby, my baby, my baby…” John was holding our baby up with his hands, and the remainder of my birthing fluids spilled out onto his legs- and the tissues got goopy and stuck in his leg hairs (he was shocked later that he didn’t get queasy and grossed out over this). Everything stayed calm, quiet and subdued. My midwife suggested we lay the baby over my stomach; she set an oxygen mask about two inches away from his face as a precaution, because he was early. I tried to nurse him, but he wasn’t into it- he was just peacefully looking around; he never cried. I was given a wonderful, softly-sweet tasting tea to drink.
I announced it was time to birth the placenta- I quietly birthed it into a salad bowl. We clamped the cord, and John cut it. My midwife stayed for four or five hours after the birth- she tidied the house, and discreetly peeked in at us in bed. She made sure we were comfortable and cared for. John wrote her a big check for the remainder of the sum for her services- this was important to him: the feeling in him had changed totally- she had healed birth for him, and he wanted to repay her. For the births of his previous babies, he was a fearful bystander, but for this baby, he finally came to a place where he felt like he belonged in the birth, and his input was crucial and welcomed. This birth was priceless to him. He wanted to stand at the front door of every hospital and send all the pregnant women home to give birth.
My whole perspective of this birth is of peace and tranquility; everything flowed, and there was no stress, no distractions and no strangers in my own home. Everything just flowed- like it was meant to be. It took four hours for him to eventually nurse; and when he did, it was awesome; and for the next year, my baby nursed every four hours, on the clock. And he nursed for twenty-eight months! I had joined La Leche League during my pregnancy, and became very committed to breastfeeding, and of the lovely style of parenting it’s a part of. I had learned all of it’s benefits, and became very active in my group. I felt then, and still do, that my early disappointments with breastfeeding were very sad and unfortunate; I still wonder if my older children would have turned out differently if I breastfed and family bedded them as I did my youngest children. Breastfeeding and the whole La Leche League philosophy changed my entire perspective of how to nurture my children. But I can’t be hard on myself for what I didn’t know back then- I did the best I could with what I had at the time.
Four months after Brody was born, I joined Gloria Lemay’s midwifery study group. I deeply knew that I was intended to be around birth. I started attending births with Gloria. One time, she let me do my first catch- but I didn’t know until about twenty minutes before the birth that I would be doing this! I was very nervous, very self-conscious- but elated at the same time. When the time came, I simply guided the baby out and handed her to Mommy. It was just so natural, and so instinctive. Soon, I was attending homebirths about once a month, in a variety of roles: from videotaping, to secondary midwife, to general helper- I did whatever was needed. I attended birth in hospitals too- I am compelled to help women in the same way that I was helped with Kiah’s birth, and wish I could have been helped with my first three. I met Nancy Wainer Cohen and Ina Mae Gaskin at a workshop. It was incredibly empowering- I had looked up to these women for so long, and finally meeting them was a turning point in my life. And in my time as a secondary midwife, I learned what I would like to have happen at my future births, if there were to be any.
And there was: when Brody was just over two and a half years old, I got pregnant with Nolan: one night, I knew that if we did anything to get me pregnant, I’d get pregnant. I got pregnant. This birth was going to be my most special. My midwifery partner Erin and I had discussed freebirth (unassisted childbirth) throughout my pregnancy, and I was fascinated by how it sounded. I never consciously planned to have one, but I researched all I could (Laura Shanley’s book was incredibly helpful).
But at the end of my pregnancy, there was suddenly a lot of stress in my life: One month before my baby was born, three year-old Brody was found to need eight fillings, and needed intensive dental care. Eight days before my baby was born, my mother had a massive heart attack: her condition was critical, and I travelled from my Coquitlam home to Richmond almost every day (a two hour return trip) to be with her. Then seven year-old Tyson had a severe allergic reaction to a hornet sting- we rushed him to the hospital, with me carrying him the whole time. He had to have two rounds of treatment. While we were in the hospital, my sensations started- with no warning- over three weeks early. This was unlike any of my previous births- my water had always broken first. In all of my pregnancies, I have strong Braxton Hicks contractions in the last six weeks, but these were much stronger- I had to really focus to get through these sensations.
We took Tyson home about three hours later, and we all went to sleep. Around 2:30 am I woke up to a warm wetness between my legs. My water had broken!
I went to tell John, but let him sleep. I had decided before that if my labor started before thirty-six weeks, I would call my midwife- but this was after, so I didn’t. I took notes of everything that happened, and went about setting everything up for my birth- I prepared the video camera, put blankets and pads on the floor in my bedroom where I planned to give birth, I made my softly-sweet tea for after the birth, I listened to music, I put the baby’s clothes in the laundry. It was a dark, warm summer night, and I felt very serene and peaceful, private and content. My sensations were very frequent, though not painful. It was a very special time.
Then at around 6:30, it felt like something had suddenly changed . I woke up John and we called Erin and my neighbor to come help care for the kids. Then suddenly, the sun rose, the kids were awake and excited, breakfast was being prepared, our friends were coming in full of bustle and laughter, it was the start of a beautiful summer day- and my sensations mellowed and became less focused; ineffective and not moving down at all. Everything productive had stopped. So Erin and I went for a long walk, and talked about the birth, and little things- but the sensations remained ineffective.
So at about noon, I kicked everybody out- including John- and got deep into myself again. I had a deep, intuitive feeling that I had to get things going. I tried to create the most perfect birth environment for myself. Since I can only imagine my births happening at night, I tried to create the feeling of dark- we blacked out the windows. We lit candles and turned up the music. I had a long shower- and by the time I got out I was in active labor. I stayed in my bedroom most of the time, and rested, swaying my hips with each sensation. John would peek in for a few minutes, then leave again.
Then at 3:30 he decided he should stay with me. He lay on the bed reading a magazine, watching me whenever I would have a contraction- I found this kind of annoying. After twenty minutes of this I went into the bathroom. I sat on the toilet for the first two sensations, then couldn’t have any more on it- they were getting too intense, and I didn’t want my baby born in a toilet. John was watching me from the bed, so I kicked the door shut. I’d sit on the toilet, then get up and lean over the counter to have my sensations, swinging my hips and breathing and moaning deeply.
No one was telling me what to do- I could totally let go because no one was there watching me. It was peaceful, relaxing, with no sharp, sudden pains. I could hear the music softly playing in the background. Then all of a sudden, everything changed – I had an uncontrollable urge to push! I yelled “Call Erin! She’s not going to make it!”
I had to stay very focused- I had a big job to do. I walked the six steps to the prepared birthing area and told John to turn on the video camera. Then I knelt down, and could feel the baby crowning. I had another sensation, and I put my hand down and felt the top of Nolan’s head- I wasn’t really even pushing, and the baby was just coming out. I asked John to help me check the cord (to make sure it wasn’t prolapsing). The baby’s head was in my hand- I said “this baby is so small!” John said “Too small?” I said “I don’t think so”. He reached around, but he didn’t know what he was looking for. Then the baby came out- he touched the floor, but his feet were still inside me- I had to wiggle my butt and move my knee around to get them out. His cord was wrapped around his neck, his arm, and the bottom of his leg. I flipped him around to untangled him. I whipped off my nightshirt and held the baby to my chest- I cuddled him and he let out a little cry. John went to get the stool for me to sit on, and he put my nightshirt and some towels in the dryer so the baby and I would have something warm to be wrapped in.
Erin came in, and we assessed the baby- he was fantastic. I heard everyone else coming up the stairs, and I put on a cozy, warm nightshirt. Everyone else showed up after the placenta was born (into an ice cream pail) The kids got to hold him. After Nolan’s birth, I finally felt complete.
Nolan (he’s four now) was born to the song “Free Falling”, by Tom Petty; now he calls it his birth song. Every time I hear it I feel peaceful, and reminiscent of that special time. Nolan’s was by far my most sacred, painless birth- and it was because I was at home, with only my husband giving birth with me.
Our birthing environments mean everything: the people, the smells, the location, the chatter- everything around us creates our birthing experiences for us as much as we do. And if the place we’re in- and the people we’re around- make us feel stressed and uncomfortable, our births don’t happen as easily. We are compelled to allow our environments, and our perceptions of them, to dictate every aspect of our births. We are social animals, and as such, we desperately need to be accepted, and do what’s expected of us- even when we know subconsciously it’s not the right thing for us as individuals.
In my hospital births, I felt no power, and had to go along with everything because that was what was expected of me. The hospital staff had their routines and procedures they insisted on and believed in, and I was only a visitor in their environment- I was in little position to refuse anything they wanted to do to me. But women give birth best when they feel totally comfortable and uninhibited: and for some women, this does mean giving birth in a hospital. But for other women, hospitals are very stressful places to be in- and for these women, home is where comfort and peace can be found.
Six hours after Nolan’s birth, we ended up going to the hospital anyway- it turned out I had strep B, and he needed some antibiotics. I had no idea I was a strep B carrier (one in three women are). But there had been clues- my babies always came early, and I had always had a lot of stress before my earliest babies came- and stress makes the symptoms of strep B come out. If I ever get pregnant again, I will have another freebirth- but this time, I’ll take Colloidal Silver throughout my entire pregnancy- a natural antibiotic that has no dangerous side-effects. And when I did take my son into the hospital, I went in on my own terms- I was there on my own power, not succumbing to somebody else’s- and that made all the difference in how well I was treated, and the speed with which my son recovered.
Dark, private, peaceful, safe. My goal in life is to help people awaken to the peace and comfort of beautiful birth, and the freedom and personal power that comes with giving birth freely, and joyfully. This power is within all of us- all we have to do is realize it’s there, and claim it.