Before I had children, I thought that giving birth was “easy”. I mean it wasn’t called natural childbirth for nothing. Really, how hard could it be?…I have a black belt! I’ve been punched and kicked in the head. I’ve had a ligament torn in my elbow and I’ve had the wind knocked out of me. But, now that I’ve given birth to two children, I am not so ignorant. I am now in awe of women who give birth.
When we first found out we were pregnant we were a little surprised. We took three pregnancy tests just to make sure and yup, we were indeed pregnant. Lawrence (my man of few words) said “Congratulations????????”. We still laugh about that to this day. Although we were not planning to get pregnant we were excited when we found out we were. I was experiencing bleeding and cramping so we were sent to Emergency, then to our doctor, then for an ultrasound, then back to the doctor. We were then informed in a very nonchalant way that we should prepare ourselves for a miscarriage. We were given some statistics on how miscarriages are normal; it seemed like the most inappropriate time to learn about the percentage of miscarriages. We went home and curled up on the couch and cried. It was by far one of the worst days of our lives. Weeks went by though and no miscarriage. There were four more ultra sounds, however, and gradually non stop throwing up (morning sickness, try all day sickness). But we were just grateful that we were having our baby.
So we began to plan and planned we did, every last bit. There was no question we were having a natural birth—with a doula and a midwife… “A what? A who?” asked Lawrence. So I filled him in and he was very supportive. We were ecstatic when we were accepted at the West View birthing centre. We met Noreen Walker during our group meetings. At the time, I didn’t know about her extensive experience with natural childbirth but her tell it like it is attitude put me at ease. There was something about her demeanour that made me feel like I was in good hands and I trusted her.
During my pregnancy I tried to do everything “right” but I ended up with pre-eclampsia. No amount of positive thinking could change that. None of my training in martial arts could prepare me to deal with this unexpected news! It was silly on my part, but I seemed to think that receiving a black belt would somehow prepare me to deliver a baby. Of course I see now how the two are really not the least bit related!
It was a whirlwind: one minute I was going for my scheduled group appointment and the next I was calling Lawrence to meet me at West View. As soon as I arrived the induction process began. I spent two nights at West View, never once thinking that we wouldn‘t be having our baby there. Noreen was fighting in our corner: she did everything in her power to keep me from being transferred to the hospital. But, eventually the doctor who was consulted had the final decision to have me moved. We were devastated; everything went downhill from there. I wasn’t allowed to move around or eat anything. A water birth was out of the question. I kept having to tell staff that I needed to use the restroom just so that I could move around. The contractions were becoming unbearable. When they checked me, I was only 1 cm dilated. At that point a natural delivery was the last thing on my mind. Give me drugs, lots of drugs!!! It was about six or seven more hours before I was ready to push. It took five minutes to push the baby out.
Unfortunately, our daughter Sage had suffered nerve damage in one arm and her head was swollen with huge haematomas on each side. That was it. I had failed as a woman! I felt as if I couldn’t even do the most natural thing that women were supposed to be able to do. I was broken and deflated. What were people going to think of me? I had told everyone I would never take drugs during delivery. And to make it worse I had damaged our beautiful, helpless little baby.
When we took our bundle of joy home we realized she was not so joyful. Sage hardly slept and cried most of the time. No matter what we did, she was inconsolable. I was so sad that I lost touch with what was really important, our daughter. At first, It was very challenging to bond with her. I could not understand what people were talking about when they said becoming a mother was the greatest gift ever. I think I would have preferred a fork in my eye! Now, I was failing as a mother too. I sank deeper into post-partum depression and Lawrence followed close behind. I cried almost as much as Sage and I didn’t know what to do. I already felt like I was a failure, so asking for help was out of the question. At the low point when I was at my worst, I was paranoid and (no joking), I would wake up to rock my pillow back to sleep. I felt crazy. I thought about ending it all. We were done. We were never having sex again. There was no way we were ever getting pregnant again!
It took over a year before things started to get better. I began sharing my experience with others and realized that it was post-partum depression and I wasn’t just crazy. Sage and I started to cry less and sleep more. Her nerves in her arm healed completely and her bruises went away. We began to build a healthy loving relationship. It still took another six months before Lawrence and I could even think about having another child. Six months after that, we decided that we wanted another child. But, we were scared and couldn’t help but think of all the “what ifs”. We decided that if we had a home birth with a midwife, we would have another child. We had learned fertility cycle charting from our friend Dinah, so it was very easy for us to get pregnant.
We remembered the care we received from Noreen and we knew she was the one we wanted to be a part of our birthing experience. I was determined to make this experience different. We took a hypnobirthing class (a combination of breathing and deep relaxation techniques) to help prepare for a drug free labour. I started counting calories, weighing myself daily and stopping to take my blood pressure at every drug store I passed. But when I mentioned this to Noreen, she said: “I want you to stop weighing yourself, stop taking your blood pressure and just have fun in this pregnancy”. Based on my previous experience, I couldn’t see how “fun”had anything to do with “pregnancy”, but she was the expert so I took her advice. As it turned out, her attitude was much better than mine and the rest of my pregnancy was much more enjoyable when I relaxed a little.
I think it is true that we give birth to our babies the way we live our lives. In my case, slow and steady wins the race (though perhaps “stubborn and determined to do it my way” would be more appropriate). I was starting to get impatient: every day I decided I was having a baby, and every night I was frustrated that I was still pregnant. One night I was trying to sleep and wondering if this would be the night, when I heard “pop, pop” I got out of bed and stepped into the bathroom, my water gushed out. It was 2:00 AM on Friday morning. Things were progressing slowly but I was OK with that. For some reason it was imperative that my house be spotless and there be fresh-baked cookies to serve to our guests. Once that was all taken care of, we were good to go. It was amazing being at home. I was able to cook and eat what I liked. I went for a walk, visited with friends, got reflexology, rested and cleaned when I wanted. By Saturday night, I was still having contractions but they were irregular. When I talked to Noreen she reassured me that I would know when it was time. “Stop timing your contractions!” she said. That was not such an easy feat when you have our obsessive personalities, but we complied. We had Dinah, our unofficial doula, take care of Sage’s bedtime routine so we could focus on labour. I had to keep mentally preparing myself: “I can do this, I trust in my body and my baby”. Lawrence and I went to bed to try to get some sleep. One of us slept. I listened to my positive birthing affirmations over and over. I used hypnobirthing to relax during each contraction. I was amazed at how more bearable contractions were when I surrendered to them instead of fighting them.
Finally, at around 12:30 AM I woke Lawrence and we went into the basement to fill the birthing pool. Shortly after we called Noreen, she arrived with Ava. Noreen wanted to check to see how dilated I was. “No” I said, This time I wasn’t so compliant. I was terrified that Noreen would tell me I was only 1 cm (bringing back all the memories from my first delivery) and then I would have to drown myself in the birthing pool. So, I continued labouring in my own way. What a gift; to be able to do what was right for me. With Lawrence and Dinah by my side, I continued using hypnobirthing techniques. Finally, after praying to God (odd, since I am not religious) and swearing just a little bit, I agreed to be checked. Baby was close. After a few more contractions I was ready to meet our new baby (which was a polite way of saying, “I’m done, get this thing out of me!”). After a short amount of pushing and Noreen’s help in making room for the head, the head came out. I touched it, I waited, determined not to tear this time around. With the assistance of Noreen pulling, I pushed the baby out. Apparently, the baby was stubborn too! We had Dinah run upstairs and get Sage before Lawrence cut the cord. I wanted her to be a part of this amazing transition for our family. It was a few minutes before I asked Lawrence if we knew the gender. We hadn’t checked yet, because baby was having a little trouble breathing. Once that was taken care of, we checked, Garnet Trent was born at 5:33AM Sunday morning. He weighed 8 pounds 14oz. He was worth all fifty hours of labour. He was beautiful.
In my perfectionist mind, I was still not content with my delivery. I thought I took too long. I thought I made too much noise. I thought I pushed too hard. If there was anything I could possibly find wrong with my performance, I found it. But after a few days, I started to watch my birthing video, all 4 hours and 15 minutes of it. And something amazing happened; I began to heal. With every contraction, I saw myself in a new light. The trauma and the pain from my first delivery began to fade. I felt tenderness and love toward myself. I became in awe of myself, just as I had been of all the other birthing mothers I had seen. By the end, when I watched our son take his first breath, I was a different person; a whole person. Having our son at home supported by loving people changed me.
During the weeks and months to follow, all of our fears about our post-partum experience being the same as with Sage were put to rest. I am not depressed this time. Garnet sleeps, barely cries and is easily comforted. I am content with my delivery and our family feels complete. We now understand that the experience of our first pregnancy and delivery was the motivating force that drove us to find something different. In turn, having a home birth with the care and support of a midwife healed the pain we experienced during our first delivery and for that we are forever grateful.
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