My home birth story: a transforming experience of power and vulnerability (with a bit of ranting)

Because I’ve been posting updates throughout my pregnancy (read them here), it only seems logical to tell you my birth story. So here it is!

Sorry if this is a long post but I was important for me to write all the details so I can remember and hopefully help other women considering home birth. Please feel free to read only the parts that interest you. 😉 I really hope to read your comments and feedback but please be mindful that I’m really opening my heart here and sharing something that is incredibly personal to me.

The beginning

4 am – I wake up to go to the washroom. Nothing unusual for a 38-week pregnant woman. But when I sat on the toilet, I heard a soft “pop”. I immediately thought “OMG, could this be my water bag breaking? Or am I just still half asleep?” I stood up and felt a little trickle down my legs. I did the smell test, knowing that amniotic fluid is supposed to smell sweet. Couldn’t smell much and thought I would keep this to myself because I knew that I would be put on a 48-hour countdown if my bag of waters had indeed broken. So I just went back to bed.

A little while later, I felt the urge to go to the washroom again. That’s when I lost my mucous plug. Some describe it like snot but I remember thinking it was just the prettiest snot ever. Perfectly clear gelatin-like. I almost woke up my husband Jonathan to show him but decided to refrain from doing it (I later told him that and he said he would have loved to see it! lol We’re just weird like that). I knew that losing the mucous plug doesn’t mean much as some women lose it a few weeks prior to going into labor… so I just tried to go back to bed.

But I couldn’t fall asleep! Another little while later, I returned to the washroom to pee again and that’s when I had my bloody show. That was it. Now I was off to consult with Dr. Google to confirm my suspicions. Yes, that’s what I thought I remembered. Unlike the mucous plug, the bloody show is a pretty good sign that labor is imminent.

At that point, it wasn’t even 5 am but I woke Jonathan to tell him. Being at 38 weeks and 5 days, I never thought it would happen so early. Was I ready? Had I done everything I was supposed to? Besides these few worries, I couldn’t help but feel excited. I knew that that day was going to be a very big and important day for me. 😉

Early labor begins around 5 am

5 am – I found myself in the bathroom a few more time again. It seemed like my body was getting ready by emptying my bowels… another sign that baby is on its way!  I also started experiencing mild period-like cramping. I still couldn’t believe it and just couldn’t stop giggling each time I report the latest development to my husband who was still in bed. It was a Monday but he had taken the day off coincidentally to go to a few appointments. However, his boss had just told him the Friday before that he better not have a baby before Tuesday because they had very important deadlines to meet on that day… so Jonathan started to worry a little bit about it… and then started to laugh and said “this little one is already starting to rule our life! Whatever happens happens.” 😉

Since I was too excited to go back to sleep, I decided that I might as well shower thinking it might be my last change to be clean before baby comes. The cramping was slowly getting more intense and more frequent. I started singing with each new surge to distract myself and to help me get an idea of how close together they were and how long they lasted.

6 am – I started feeling hungry and thought I might as well eat to make sure I have enough strength for what is coming. I had cucumber slices with chicken liver pâté and an apple while thinking about what still needed to be done to prepare for the birth of my baby. I still couldn’t believe that my baby was coming! How exciting! Time to get Jonathan out of my bed now. We have work to do!

The finishing touches

Fortunately, I had just finished preparing my box of supplies for the birth but I still had to line the mattress I had set up on the floor of the living room with a plastic cover underneath the sheets to protect it. We had just gotten a infant car seat but it was still in the box and wanted to have it installed just in case (if mom experiences complications after the birth, she will go to the hospital by ambulance while dad and baby have to drive).

Already in active labor by 9:30 am

Meanwhile, I just continued pacing in my living room, trying to breathe deeply. I was glad to be home where I had a lot of room to move. I soon started to vocalize. Softly at first. It really helped concentrate through the contractions. By 9:30 am, I realized it might be time to time my contractions and found out I was already in active labor.

Everything seemed to have progressed so quickly. I felt a bit scared actually. I felt like my body was strong and doing what it should do, but at the same time I felt very vulnerable and not in control.

Abandoning the idea of unassisted childbirth

In the few weeks before that day, I had been reading a lot about unassisted childbirth (also called free birth), which doesn’t necessarily mean giving birth alone but doing it without medical assistance (even from a midwife). I was really inspired by the strength of women really trusting their body and the birth process.

I also have to say that I had been a little bit disappointed by the care I received from my midwives. Here in Ontario, the public health care system allows you to be followed by either an OB/GYN or a midwife. Going for a midwife was a no-brainer because it’s the only way to birth at home. However, midwifes have been fighting really hard to gain credibility from the medical community and have become really medicalized in the process (I can only speak for the midwifes I met of course, I don’t want to generalize). I had been hoping for a more holistic approach…

That’s why I thought I might just delay calling the midwife if everything felt good so I could try to birth by myself…

However, it seemed like I didn’t have time to finish reading everything I wanted to read about it to be completely ready. Also, I felt like things were progressing too quickly. The intensity was overwhelming. I gave up the idea of having an unassisted childbirth. What really mattered to me was to avoid all interventions and have my birth plan respected.

I asked Jonathan to call the midwife and then my doula for me because I didn’t feel like talking on the phone. I really needed to focus on my body and breathing.

That day was actually the day my doula was supposed to come over for a home visit to bring her birthing pool and meet my husband for the first time. She was surprised to get a call from Jonathan announcing that I was already in labor!

The dance begins

Jonathan was besides me the whole time (as soon as the infant car seat was installed… which actually felt like a few hours to me at the time) and it really helped to have him there, even though I know he was feeling powerless. Sometimes, his touch didn’t feel good though and I might have gently pushed him away a few times during a contraction but tried to explain, between contractions, that I wanted him there but that I’d prefer if he would not touch my belly during surges and that I’d rather have him stroke my arm for example.

I started feeling the urge to pee. After a contraction, I would walk towards the closest washroom, Jonathan by my side, and sit on the toilet to try to pee but nothing. I couldn’t. Nothing. Nada. How awful is it when you feel like you have to pee so bad but can’t. I would then feel the next contraction coming and stand up, leaning on the counter, to breathe through it. Then I would walk back to the living room where I would have a few more contractions standing up leaning on Jonathan and walking in between. And this was the beginning of a dance that we repeated I don’t know how many times. Every time I thought that I would surely be able to pee this time but still couldn’t. I guess baby was putting a lot of  pressure on my bladder. 😉

Many times I felt like getting pregnant was a mistake and that this was too hard for me. That I couldn’t do it. I also thought many times that I would never ever have other children! I knew it was normal but felt like I would be different and would not feel this way. But I did more than once!

Getting comfortable

Standing, moving my hips and walking were my favorite positions. I tried kneeling and leaning on a birth bath but it didn’t feel good. Although I had practiced squatting, it didn’t feel right. I strongly believe that the position that feel most comfortable are the ones your baby needs you to be in to facilitate the process. I was so happy to be home and have freedom of movement. I certainly didn’t feel like lying on my back!

A few times, I just felt so tired from not getting a full night sleep and walking so much. I would quickly lie down on my side after a contraction and fall asleep immediately… only to be annoyingly awakens by the next contractions 3 minutes or so later. Still, these mini power naps were very helpful.

No time for hypnobirthing

Despite following hypnobirthing classes, I wasn’t able to implement it. I didn’t feel like reading or listening to the scripts at all. In fact, I barely used any of the things I had put in place to prepare for the birth. I had put pictures reminding me of pleasant memories on the wall, painted rocks with inspiring words and written empowering quotes and affirmations… but didn’t feel like using any of them. I think it’s because things were progressing so quickly that I needed all of my energy and concentration to adjust to the next level of surge. Always hitting me a little harder each time in my lower abdomen.

Although I didn’t really use what I learned during my hypnobirthing classes, they still helped me feel better prepared and calm. Jonathan tried to make me think of pleasant imagery during a few contractions and it was really helpful.

(Note: I still recommend the hypnobirthing classes or book just as a way to feel more prepare and to have those extra tools in case you need it. Many women are able to implement the techniques with great success.)

My midwife arrives

My midwife arrived around 10:30 am and asked me if I wanted her to check me. I feel like this is an unnecessary intervention because it doesn’t mean anything at all. Dilating a centimeter can take a few minutes for some women or hours for others. I knew the numbers could mess up with my head but… I love numbers and was curious so I agreed.

Laying on my back felt awful. Having her check me was so uncomfortable. Then the next contraction quickly came and I had to endure it on my back. I hated it and quickly got up as soon as I could.

4-5 cm dilated

I was 4-5 cm. I wasn’t sure what to think of that number. Should I be happy I’m halfway dilated? Or discouraged that I still have a lot of work to do before this could be over with? The next contraction came and I went back to my special place and stopped thinking about it.

I was in laborland, where time doesn’t exist. Where a minute lasts an hour and an hour lasts a minute. I didn’t want to think about numbers, or anything else, anymore. I just wanted to concentrate on my breathing and vocalizing. I was getting louder and louder. It felt like I wasn’t making these sounds. It was a very primal version of myself taking over.

The pushing stage begins

Around noon (it’s only by looking at the chart later that I know the time because I had no idea, I only knew it was still daytime because it was sunny outside), something changed. I felt a big shift. My body started pushing by itself. It felt very different. So strong and powerful. It felt like my whole body was now working at getting this baby out into the world. My baby was really going to come soon!

My midwife immediately noticed the change in my vocalization and asked to check me. I complied, excited to be moving to the last stage of labor. I was already fully dilated, at 10 cm. She quickly called the second midwife (in Ontario, there is a midwife for mom and one for baby), realizing that this wouldn’t definitely not take all day (and night!) unlike most first labors.

Shortly after, my doula arrived. She had brought her birthing pool and asked if I wanted her to set it up. I said there was no point. No time. This baby won’t wait!

I feel like my contractions were a bit further apart (but again I have no clue if this is true or not but this is what it felt like to me) but the pushing sensation was immensely powerful. Words cannot describe. I felt impressed by the wisdom of my body. It knew what to do. At the same time, I felt quite vulnerable because I was definitely not in control. I decided to just let my body do its work and ride the wave of each pushing surge. I just had to let go. What else could I do?

That’s when I felt very nauseous. Fortunately, I had a bucket nearby and threw up most of my breakfast. I remember thinking for a second that it was a shame to waste my precious and nutritious liver pâté…! 😉 lol I knew that vomiting was a good indicator that I was in transition (moving from active labor to the pushing stage). I was another big step closer to meeting my baby.

Letting my body do the work

At this stage, the contractions were just so powerful I couldn’t stand up anymore. I went down on my knees leaning over my birthing ball. Jonathan was still by my side, as he had been throughout the whole process, talking to me and stroking my arm. My doula sat in front of me, stroke my hair and reminded me to breathe calmly because at some point the contractions were so overwhelming that I started breathing too fast.

Although I stayed in my bubble the whole time, feeling their presence was reassuring. But at the same time I felt alone because no one but me could birth that baby. My baby was coming and only me could help him be born.

I remember hearing one of my midwife telling me to push at some point. I had read that coached pushing is not a good idea, especially if your body is doing it by itself. I tried a couple of pushes but it felt useless and pointless. I could never replicate the strength and power of my body. I also knew that the few minutes between my contractions were necessary for me to rest and for my baby to get his heart rate back up after being squeezed so forcefully. And that baby would also need this short break to turn his little body once his head would be out. So I just ignored her and let my body do the work while I tried to surrender to its power and wisdom.

Yes, I pooped

I had read many birth stories where women describe that they poop at this point and thought every time I would read that that it would NOT happen to me. Well it did! But I didn’t see any of it. The midwifes were really discrete in wiping it off and getting rid of all of the evidence. If you think about it, there was a baby head in my pelvis, no wonder any leftovers in my bowels / rectum was pushed out. 😉

What are you doing in my birth canal?

While waiting for the next push, I started feeling something very uncomfortable in my birth canal. I know a head was coming down this way but I could also feel fingers reaching inside of me. What the heck?! Between 2 contractions, I asked “Can you please take your hands out?”… I even added “please”. My midwife replied that she had to catch the baby.

What? I’m pretty sure my baby won’t come out of my body at 100 mph and that there will be plenty of time to see him coming.

But I was not in a state of arguing.

It may sound stupid if you haven’t given birth. You might think that if you’re already experiencing childbirth, what difference could a few fingers make? Well, it did make a big difference to me. It was really uncomfortable. Actually painful. And intrusive. And distracting.

I know I shouldn’t complain because everything about my home birth was exactly the way I wanted it to be. I didn’t have any of the unnecessary interventions I wanted to avoid… except for this one. During one of my hypnobirthing class, we were shown many birth videos and I saw nurses and doctors in some of them getting their fingers and hands inside the birth canal. I thought this was a barbaric practice and it never even crossed my mind to discuss it with my midwife. But there she was…

I had 3 tears, 2 bilateral and 1 perineal. All superficial, thank god. But I can’t help but wonder if I could have avoided them without this totally unnecessary intervention. This is hard for me to write about because although I feel good overall about my birth, I feel like I failed somehow because I let this happen and because I tear. I’m not saying that my midwife made me tear directly, but I believe that the stress and discomfort she caused might have prevented my tissues from relaxing and stretching the way they should have. Anyway, we’ll never know.

The ring of fire

I tried to forget the discomfort and concentrate on what my body was doing. I could feel his head crowning. I looked between my legs but couldn’t really figure out what it was that I was looking at (I thought my baby was completely disfigured for a few seconds!) and thought it’d probably be best not to look again for now.

I don’t know how many pushes it took me to get the head out but quite a few it seemed. The ring of fire seemed to last for hours… but it was only 2-3 minutes according to my chart… But the head was finally born… (I didn’t look but so I was told!) When looking at birth videos, it seemed to me that the rest of the body of the baby would just come out by itself at that point but it still felt like a long time for me…

But then I looked down and there was my baby laying on the mattress between my legs. I couldn’t believe it. I took my baby in my arms and hold him on my bare chest.

2:03 pm – I did it!

I had done it! It was over! I had no idea what time it was but it was only 2:03 pm, meaning that my labor was pretty short (but intense!) for a first baby.

It’s a boy!

I’m using the masculine to talk about my baby but at that point, I still had no idea if it was a boy or a girl because we had declined all ultrasounds. And it didn’t even occur to me to look before holding my baby. It’s only 5 minutes or so later that I checked and found out I had a son. 🙂 The newborn exam done at my feet an hour later revealed that our little Ayden weighted 8 lbs 8 oz and measured 20.5 inches. I loved him to death already. 🙂

Immediate skin-to-skin contact

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A few moments after giving birth

I was already completely naked so it was easy to initiate skin-to-skin contact right after birth. I don’t really remember when I decided to strip but did so during the pushing stage when I realized that my baby was coming soon.

It’s funny because this is something that concerned me during my pregnancy and I was wondering if I would feel comfortable being naked, or at least topless, to help with immediate skin-to-skin contact. But it was a non-issue. I felt comfortable in the comfort of my own home and honestly you don’t really care about the way your derriere and thighs look anymore when you’re in laborland. 😉

I just laid on the mattress on the floor of my living room with my baby on my chest. Jonathan was by my side. I was in love! Life never felt more perfect! La vie est belle. The rush of oxytocin was surreal and words cannot describe the joy, the love, the satisfaction… I was now a mom! Une maman!

Delayed cord clamping and honoring my placenta

When I first talked about delayed cord clamping with my midwife, she said that they would usually delay it by 2-3 minutes. But this is not what I had in mind. I wanted to delay it at least until the cord stopped pulsing to ensure that my baby got all of his blood (1/3 of the blood of a newborn is still in the placenta when he is born and he needs this blood to nourish organs like the lungs, liver, digestive system and kidneys that previously didn’t need any while still in the womb). Fortunately, I was able to wait until after my placenta was born which took about 30 minutes or so.

And I did keep my placenta in a beautiful lotus bowl with the intention of consuming it. I know many of you may think “Gross!” but please keep these thoughts for yourself. I don’t mean that everyone should do what I did but the placenta is nothing but gross. It’s an amazing organ that my body created to unite me and my baby throughout my whole pregnancy. It’s what connected us physically, emotionally and spiritually. I think it should be cherished as it has been and still is in many other cultures. And because I ate pretty well during my pregnancy, I knew my placenta would be very nutritious. I didn’t want these nutrients to go to waste. 😉 Having your placenta dried and encapsulated by someone might be the easiest option  if you’re considering it but because $200 is a lot of money for me, I decided to freeze it into chunks myself to later add it to smoothies. And no, I swear I couldn’t taste a thing. If you want to read more about the reasons why this might be a healthy practice for women during the postpartum period, click here.

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The magical hour 

I was able to lay there with my new family for the first hour. I had planned to let my baby go through the stages of the magical hour where the baby slowly crawls up the chest of the mother and start nursing on his own. But I just wanted to hold my baby. So I did. And it was magical nevertheless.

My new family in my own home

I was able to get up. walk to the washroom and pee within 1-2 hours of giving birth, which is the requirements for midwives to leave you on your own (you need to be able to empty your bladder to make sure that the uterus can contract to minimize the risk of postpartum hemorrhage). By 4-5 pm that day, or just about 12 hours after my day started, I was left home with my new family. It felt so surreal!

At that point, we hadn’t even had time to notify our families that I was in labor so we just called them to proudly announce that our baby was already here. They were surprised but very excited and happy for us.

Afterthoughts

The only bad thing about the oxytocin rush that you get when you give birth is that it can’t last. And things can only go down from up there. In the first few days, I was really enjoying the baby moon and falling in love more and more with my baby.

I wasn’t feeling depressed but couldn’t help but feel like I had failed and didn’t have the perfect birth I had imagined. I was trying to avoid thinking about what had happened to concentrate on my sweet little boy… but knew I should face my memories of the birth while they were still fresh in my head because a part of me was feeling so disappointed.

I believe that birth is a very special experience in the life of a woman. Of course, what really matters is that the baby is healthy. That’s what mothers say to themselves and what others keep repeating to them. But I still think that it’s very important to address the birth experience because it can leave scars that no one can see. Maybe I’m too sensitive… but every woman in the postpartum period is! Rightfully so! After all, pregnancy, birth and the early postpartum period that follow are times of huge transformation on all levels: physical, hormonal, and emotional…

While in bed with my baby, I realized what had been making me feel this way. Some people actually asked Jonathan if he had been “traumatized” by what he had seen and experienced. It was jokingly, but it somehow made me feel like perhaps I was too loud, perhaps there was too much blood, perhaps I shouldn’t have pooped, perhaps I should have done things differently.

About 3-4 days postpartum, I finally asked Jonathan if he would have preferred to not attend the birth because it might not have been what he thought it would be like. I’m glad I asked him because his answer was exactly what I needed. Despite not being a touchy feely kind of guy, he knew me well enough to know that something was bothering me. He said he was happy he was able to be there to support me and witness the birth of my son and went on to tell me his favorite moments. I was of course crying and crying as he was reassuring me that our son’s birth was truly beautiful. 🙂

The only thing he would have liked to change is how our midwife inserted her fingers in my birth canal and pulled on our baby’s head. He knew that it made me uncomfortable and even hurt me. He knows that although we can’t know for sure, it might have contributed to my tearing and who knows what consequences it can have to come into this world pulled by the head?  And he knows this is something I wanted to do by myself. But there is nothing we can change about that. And of course, I consider myself lucky for only having had this one unnecessary interventions.

I felt a lot better after having discussed these little things that I couldn’t get out of my mind so now I can leave this life-changing experience behind feeling proud and happy looking forward to spending many great moments with my family. <3

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I’m a mom! Thank you for following me on this next adventure. 🙂

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