The story of Atticus’s birth most certainly did not begin when the first contraction hit. No, it started with the birth of my first son, Eli, in 2007. Born by caesarean section, Eli’s birth, unavoidable though it was, was disappointing, to say the least. We had planned on having a peaceful homebirth. We had attended a Bradley Method Childbirth class, I took all the vitamins I was supposed to, agreed to all the tests, did my exercises every night, and yet, my waters broke five weeks early, and four and a half days later, at 5 cm dilated and a distressed fetal heart rate, we reluctantly decided that our little one needed to come out, and by caesarean it must be. It turned out that Eli was very caught up in the umbilical cord. So much so, that he could not descend, could not put pressure on my cervix, and therefore my body never went into labour. When I did begin to have mild contractions, the pressure put on him tightened the cord around his neck, which caused his heart rate to reach dangerously low levels. The caesarean was a blessing, despite it being the farthest from my birth plan. And it's funny how, almost 5 years later, the caesarean is not just something that happened to me, it is very much a part of me, and will be for the rest of my life.
That is why, when I got pregnant with Silas almost two years later, I knew I wanted to have a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Caesarean). The majority of people believe that “once a caesarean, always a caesarean.” However, I knew enough to know that multiple caesareans limit the number of children you can have, increase the risks of scar rupture, ectopic pregnancy, placenta previa, placental abruption, placenta accrete and uterine rupture, among other things. I did my research. Unfortunately, I was a Canadian living in Michigan on a student’s budget. We could not afford to pay for American maternity health care, and being a VBAC I didn’t want to risk hiring a homebirth midwife and having to transfer to the hospital and pay out of pocket for another caesarean. So, instead we found a midwife in Windsor, Ontario, directly across the border from Detroit, and about 45 minutes from our home. We traveled to and from Windsor for all our prenatal appointments and planned on having our VBAC baby in a hotel in Windsor, the closest thing to a homebirth we could manage, given the circumstances. Well, it turns out that traveling across international borders and booking into a hotel are activities not conducive to labour. I stalled multiple times, but not enough for me to get a good night's sleep. After two days of off and on contractions, my body actually kicked it into active labour, but I was so exhausted and uncomfortable that I thought I was going to die. At the first suggestion of going to the hospital to get some relief I foolishly agreed. I didn’t know how much I didn’t want to be in a hospital setting, and being there did nothing to help my labour along. Despite my apparent eagerness to have an epidural, I did get to 10 cm and pushing without medication. But, when I was directed to push, because I had no urge, I couldn’t even fathom where that energy would come from. I was so exhausted from the 2 ½ days of labour that I couldn’t do it. An epidural was administered so that I could rest and then hopefully push the baby out. I rested, I pushed, and pushed, and pushed, but baby never came. An OB was called in to consult and adamantly suggested I have an immediate repeat caesarean. I refused. She persisted. So did I. She finally agreed to trying a forcep delivery, but cautioned me on all the risks (she didn’t do the same about the caesarean.) In all my research I hadn’t looked up forceps, but it sounded better to me than another caesarean, so I agreed. In the operating room my dear sweet Silas was born in three pushes with the help of two episiotomies and the forceps 53 hours after my first contraction. I was in far worse shape physically and emotionally after his birth than Eli’s. Despite the fact that I had my VBAC, I felt that my body had truly failed me, for this time it was my body’s fault, not uncontrollable circumstance.
This sentiment lingered after Silas’s birth. Through 1 year of physiotherapy to manage the damage to my pelvic floor, through doctors visits where I was told that some women just couldn’t labour naturally, through constant self talk about what I did and didn’t do in Silas’s labour to get to where I got, through it all I remained disappointed with the outcome, and my body. But, knowing I still wanted more children, I again began on the path of figuring out how I could do it differently. I decided to pursue becoming a doula, a professional birth assistant, in an attempt to help other women where I felt I had lacked. Through the reading material required to certify as a doula, and attending multiple births of incredible women, I was able to absorb the knowledge, conviction, and experience that I somehow lacked before. I also found that as I was able to “mother” those mothers through their labours, I found healing in my own soul and gained a trust in the woman and her body.
So, when I got pregnant again, just as I had done before, I decided that I needed to do things completely different. I needed, more than anything, to trust in my body, to throw out all those fears and opinions, and allow my body to do exactly what it was supposed to do. With incredible midwives I started my journey. I refused every routine test, knowing that my body was doing exactly what it needed to nourish and care for the baby inside me. I didn’t use the Doppler at my appointments to hear the baby’s heart beat, instead trusting that the feelings inside of me indicated far more than a heart rate could. I had a “pants on policy,” and never had a vaginal check through my pregnancy or labour. I had no ultrasounds. I ate well, remembering to take my vitamins when I happened to. I never officially weighed myself. I didn’t do chiropractics and acupuncture, as I had promised myself I would after Silas’s birth. I just trusted, trusted in my body, and in God, that I was meant to do what I wanted to do. I even decided that I would not hire a doula, as I had saved for and planned, because I didn’t want anyone at my labour besides my family. I wanted to allow my body to do what it could do without any unnecessary encouragement or intervention.
Throughout my pregnancy I visualized my ideal birth, in my home with just me, Jared, the boys, and my sister Chloe (to take pictures and watch the boys). I knew I wanted the midwives there, but ideally wanted to call on them only as I was pushing. They would come in, make sure all was well (which it would be) and leave. Perfect. I felt that having a peaceful birth with my boys there would somehow help me, and them, heal from the trauma that marked their births.
And that brings me to being 39 weeks pregnant. Huge. Tired. Sore. Knowing that I was ready to go just as long as baby needed to be in there, but praying that he or she wouldn’t wait too long. On the morning of the 10th of April I woke up with the first more powerful pressure waves. I didn’t time them or think much of it, I just noticed that they were stronger than the weeks and months of Braxton Hicks I’d been having. They continued very sporadically through the day, but never strong enough to stop activity or make be believe anything was about to happen. Jared, the boys, and I went to my midwife appointment that evening, at 6 pm. It was only the second Jared had been to, as all the rest had been during working hours. He had come to my very first appointment back in September. I was measuring 38-39 weeks along, we could hear baby’s heart beat through the stethoscope (in the 140’s), Wendy, the midwife, took my blood pressure (96/60), and besides that we were sent on our way. As we left we joked that hopefully we would see her next at our house, and not at the following week’s appointment. We stopped at my mom and dad’s on our way home to say hi and chatted for a few hours. Eli showed them how he could ride his big boy bike, which he had learned just that weekend. When we got home Jared put the boys to bed while I checked my emails/Mothering/Ravelry, etc. and I noticed a few more strong contractions while I sat on the couch. We went to bed at 10 pm, joking that we had better get a good night’s sleep, just in case. Besides the few contractions, I had had no signs of impending labour, and no reason to think that that would be the night.
From my labour journal:
At 11:30 I woke up with a few contractions. They were not incredibly strong, and I’ve had many just like them in the previous weeks, so I tried to fall back asleep. I was able to rest between them, but by 12:30 am I realized that they were still going, and quite regular. I had to pee, so I decided to get up and time the contractions for a bit. I used the contraction timer app on my cell phone. For a half hour they were 4-5 minutes apart and about 1 minute and 10 seconds long. They were still not painful in any way, but definitely stronger than they had been when I first woke up. I am pretty sure that this is it.
There are a few things I want to do during this labour, so before I wake up Jared I am going to put on my Grandma Jackson’s necklace that she gave me for my university graduation. I want her strength during this labour. I’m very excited to welcome this little one into the world! I’m mostly excited that he/she has decided to come BEFORE my mom leaves for Paris on Saturday.
1:00 am - The pressure waves are still very tolerable, but the last three have been only 3 minutes apart. I realize that this may go faster than I think. (I had figured that I’d call Chloe in the morning, but maybe I will sooner.) In any case, I wake up Jared to help me tidy the house and prep the pool for what seemed imminent. The boys had been playing LEGO earlier that day and I didn’t want to step on any pieces in the heat of labour!
2:00 am – The pool is filling, Hypnobabies is playing in the background, the floor is even swept! I feel unsure of how fast I am going. I don’t know if I should call Chloe or not yet. I don’t want to call the midwives until I’m absolutely sure – and I know I’m not there yet.
Contractions seemed to have slowed down in frequency over the last 45 minutes (although I will not time them again), but increased in intensity. I have been singing and humming made up lullabies to my baby through them, which has helped. After everything is prepped I think I will lie in the bath tub and try to get some rest.
While the pool was filling we lay down in bed for a bit, but before long I couldn’t even pretend to be resting and NEEDED to move.
3:45 am - I felt that things were moving along quickly enough and finally got in the tub. Contractions were definitely more intense, and at first didn’t seem much better in the water. At about 4 am I feel like I’m going to puke, so Jared grabbed me a bowl to use. I cleared out everything in my stomach. Eli woke up and came out. So as not to frighten him I concentrated very hard through a few contractions (which I had been vocalizing very loudly through) and was able to manage them a lot better. I found that counting through them in my head and aloud helped, as they were generally peaking at about 30 seconds. I knew if I could get to 30 they would subside. I had to get out of the pool every 45 minutes or so to go to the bathroom. Jared lay down with the boys and I spent a lot of time just labouring on my own, resting between contractions. At some point I asked Jared to give me a blessing, which he did, over the side of the pool.
5:45 - I got out to pee and decided to stay out for a bit, worried that the pool was slowing things
6:00 am – I vomited again. This time I was out of the pool, so I just heaved over the toilet. I texted Chloe to tell her to call in sick for work – and to come over as soon as she was up and ready. She works for my dad, so I wasn’t surprised when my mom called at 6:30 to say she could come by to help any time.
I spent the next bit labouring in the bathroom. Silas woke up and came into our room, where Eli had spent most of the night. He came in crying “Me want my Ee-I.” He lay in the bed for a while, watching what was going on. When I felt I could I went and laid with him for a while, getting my last cuddle with my “baby.” It wasn’t long before I couldn’t lie there any more, for contractions were too strong.
6:45 am – I got back in the pool, but had to get out shortly after to pee again. At this point I lost my mucus plug in it’s entirety. I got back in the pool, closed my eyes, and laboured very internally for the next bit. At some point Chloe showed up. She was taking pictures, but my eyes were closed, so I didn’t notice much. The boys woke up and Jared and Chloe made them French toast. I noticed that I didn’t like the smell, but it didn’t bother me enough to come out of my reverie. I was surprised each time I decided to open my eyes how bright it had gotten. It seemed that it was suddenly morning. I felt things were getting very intense, and every time I knew a contraction was coming I would call, “Jared” and he would come running over to hold me while I was having the contraction. Then he would go back to caring for the boys.
8:00 am – I finally decided it was time to call the midwives and let them know what was going on. I figured they would be up anyway by that point. I still didn’t want them here, but wanted to give them a heads up. Jared called the pager and Wendy called back. I heard him tell her that contractions were 5-8 minutes apart and pretty strong. I knew that he was painting a much prettier picture than it really was, that they were much closer and harder than he described, but didn’t correct him, as I didn’t want them to worry and want to come. He told Wendy that we would call back when we were ready for her to come.
Shortly after that contractions intensified greatly!
At 8:30, in the pool, I told Jared that I either had to poo, or push, so I got out to see if it was poo. I had never felt the urge to push, and I liked knowing what my body was doing. I apparently went through transition at the same moment, because on the toilet (where I didn’t poo) I had a break down. My sister Alice came over while I was sitting there and I really felt like I was loosing it. Jared had gotten on the phone with his office to let them know he wasn’t coming in, and I told her to tell him to get off the phone right then! I also told her she should leave, as I didn’t want her to see me like that. The boys had been a little distracting, so she said that she would take them with her and bring them back as soon as I wanted them (she lives just down the street.) Alice said that Chloe would stay out of the way, and be there when I needed her. I didn’t feel that she was in the way, but she seemed to come and go just as she needed.
After Jared got off the phone with his work, he called Wendy again. He told her what I had said about pooing or pushing (at that point I knew it was definitely pushing) and she said she would head right over.
I got back in the pool and between the next two contractions I felt a gentle “pop” and knew that my water had broke. It was 8:46. I asked Jared to check and see if the water was clear. He said he couldn’t see anything, so I knew there was no meconium. At this point my body started pushing. Nothing too strong, but after the peak of the contraction I would feel my body doing what it was meant to do. I was sitting in the pool kind of sideways and Jared said I should move around, but I liked where I was. I would lift my leg as my body pushed, and would involuntarily grunt little short grunts as it did it.
The other midwife, Carol, a close friend, called at 8:51. Apparently Wendy had called her and they had agreed to switch off clinic duty for coming to my birth. She was on her way. She could hear me in the background and asked Jared if he wanted her to stay on the line as she drove, afraid I may have the baby before she got there. I was having a contraction and said “NO!” and Jared got off the phone and came to me.
I continued to work through contractions and let my body push when it did.
Carol got there at 9:04 am. I don’t know if it was after she got there, or shortly before, but I was feeling like this could go on forever and there was no way I could finish it. Now that I look back I see that fears from Silas’s labour were creeping up. Thus far I had done so well trusting my body and my instincts, but for some reason, with Carol there, I felt like there was no way I could do what I was about to do. It seemed more real than it had yet. I said to Carol, “I lie to all those moms, and YOU DO TOO!” To which she replied, “No, I say it hurts like hell.” I told her to “Push it back in! I don’t want it out.” When she told me that the baby was right there and I could reach down and feel his head, I said, “No, I know, I can feel it, it’s in my vagina!” Carol and Jared talked me down from some of those fears, trying not to laugh. For two contractions I cried that I couldn’t do it, that I didn’t want to do it, that the baby could stay in there forever, etc. Then, about halfway through the next contraction I changed my mind and realized that I could, or that I had no choice, so I may as well. I went from whimpering “I can’t, I can’t” to saying, “I can, I can” and with that contraction I pushed the baby’s head out.
At some point Carol had asked me to reach down and feel the baby’s head. I ended up supporting my own perineum at the top, while Carol did so at the bottom. As I was pushing the head out Carol told me to slow down. I’d been at another birth with Carol and knew how valuable this advice was in preventing tearing, so while I wasn’t necessarily “pushing” when she was telling me to, I did consciously stop pushing when she said. Once baby’s head was out I felt my body give one more push, in the same contraction, and the rest of the body slipped out at 9:23 am on April 11, exactly 19 minutes after the midwife showed up. I reached down into the water and pulled out my new little one.
I couldn’t believe it. I just cried, “I did it, I did it.” Finally my body had done what I knew it could do. I wasn’t broken! I didn’t even care if I was holding a baby boy or girl, I just rubbed, and kissed, and loved my little water baby. After a few minutes I finally lifted my little one up to see that I had another boy!!! The boys walked in about 5 minutes after the baby was born to meet their new little brother, and were completely in love, just like me and Jared were.
With both Eli and Silas I remember exactly my first thought when I saw them. With Eli it was – where’d he get those lips? And with Silas it was – he looks just like Bradley. With this little one, I don’t remember anything but pure ecstasy. I was just so happy to have done it. Once I knew he was a boy, my first thought was – we don’t have a boy name.
We stayed in the pool for about a half an hour, waiting for the placenta to be delivered. Again, I wanted my body to do it on it’s own, so we waited patiently, filling the pool with some more hot water so that the baby wouldn’t get cold. He was so calm and alert, looking at his brothers and new world with his dark eyes. He floated in the water he was born in, happy as anything. I nursed him in the pool to try to get the placenta moving. He latched on like a champ. I delivered the placenta at 9:41. Carol wanted to cut the cord, but I said I wasn’t ready yet. I really wanted to call the shots, even on this. At 9:50 I was feeling ready to get out of the tub and so Eli and Jared cut the cord and I passed the baby off to his dad.
Delivering at home was such an amazing experience. With both Eli and Silas I was so anxious about my new baby. Because both were born on the operating table, I wasn’t the first to hold them. Numerous doctors poked and prodded both of them before I even got to take a look. They were both placed in my arms after they were wiped clean, diapered and wrapped up. I would never have calmly walked into a different room, because I was afraid that some nurse would give my baby formula or something. In both cases Jared was under direction to not worry about me and to not leave the baby’s side. At home everything was different. No one held my baby until I was ready. Only Jared and the boys even touched him while he floated in the pool. Once I got out I had no worries about who would take my baby or what they would do to him. By that time Alice, Chloe, my mom and my family were all there. Any of them could hold the baby, and I wasn’t concerned. I was so peaceful and so calm about it.
Despite the fact that I had a few minutes of fear and worry before I pushed the baby out, the entire experience was completely empowering and faith promoting. I managed the entire labour without pain medication, only using Rescue Remedy and Arnica. The only part I found at all painful was the last hour, and everything disappeared as soon as I held the baby in my arms. While I can’t say that it was comfortable, as my Hypnobabies programming had told me it would be, using the Hypnobabies definitely helped me. Every time a track ran out I noticed immediately and felt way better when we turned the next one on. I was able to use my peace and release cues to calm myself throughout.
What really kept me focused and calm though was the fact that I was on my own, unwatched and uncoached. I was able to, just as I wanted, labour on my own, trusting my body and my instincts. No one was there to give suggestions that, however well intended, were not what I needed. The entire experience was very primal, incredibly internal, and totally beautiful. Is it wrong to say that I’m excited to do it all over again, this time armed with the absolute knowledge that I can do it, and do it amazingly well?
After I got out of the pool, onto my bed, the midwives checked me and I didn’t tear at all, only had a little rub. Someone brought Atticus into me and he nursed again, side-lying, like he’d been doing it for ages. I immediately felt better than I had in months, or even years. It was hard to believe that I had just had a baby!
Things I want to remember from the birth:
Eli waking up and watching me in the tub. Going back to bed twice, and then finally falling asleep in our bed, telling daddy that “Kids need to get sleep when babies are coming, right?” Wanting to be so helpful and involved. Taking a few pictures, but being too tired to really notice what was going on.
Silas waking up much later (6 am-ish) and coming into our room crying, “I want my Ee-I!” Crawling into our bed with his big brother and falling right asleep. Me lying down with him while I was out of the tub and having a last cuddle with my “Baby.” Contractions slowing just enough that I actually get a chance to do it.
Thinking calmly and clearly enough to know when to call the midwives, that I didn’t need them sooner, and what I would do if baby came before they did. Calmly told Jared to check if the fluids were clear when my water broke. Was ready to have Jared check if there was a cord around baby’s neck if he came out before the midwives got here. Knew when my body was pushing and just let it happen. Trusted in my body and what it could do.
At the same time, I felt an unconscious fear that this labour would be as long and miserable as Silas’s. Through transition I thought it would last forever. And, although I felt the urge to push so strongly I couldn’t resist, I was worried that I would be pushing for hours. With Si I pushed for 2 ½ hours. With this baby, I never did push, my body just “expelled” him.
An hour after Atticus was born, a woman stopping by with her 3 week old baby for my cancelled LLL meeting. After Alice explained that we had just had a baby, her picking up her car seat to leave and Silas screaming, “HEY! That guy stealing our baby!” It sure didn’t take him long to know that he was a big brother and needed to protect his new little charge.