June 19th is a beautiful day...the day my baby boy was born. He has been my baby for five years. As an experienced doula, I receive a lot of curious questions about how I give birth. When you’re labouring, you cease to be anything but a birthing woman, dancing with the intensity of the experience, same as everyone else. I practice what I preach: I take yoga classes and have doulas at my own births. I have always suspected I would have four children. When I turned 35, I figured, “Okay, well, I started having kids at 22, so I guess since I haven't had any more, I'm going to decide to stop now. I'll be happy with 3.” I got pregnant a week later. Circumstantially, it was a challenging time to get pregnant (when isn't it?), but sensing that happy little spirit in there, I was truly overjoyed. I would tune into the little one and feel such a rush of good energy. Expecting the birth of my fourth child, I was actually more anxious than I had been for the others. My first labour had been normal until it came time to push out my baby. She was born “sunny-side-up” after nearly three hours of pushing, but luckily I had a patient midwife and was able to squat the whole time to bring my daughter down and out. No tears. All was well. I gave birth to her at home, and had I not, my midwife was positive I would have ended up with a C-section, especially being bound to deliver in the “traditional” position. All in all, it was a phenomenal experience. I felt immensely empowered as a young mother. My second child decided to come early. I was planning to have him at the Birth House with midwives, but I was slightly under 37 weeks when I went into labour. I was allowed to go there anyway providing all was well, but after a very long, challenging active labour with very little progression, I was asked to transfer to the hospital, and I felt okay about that. I gave birth there a few hours later naturally, but I was pretty exhausted from having had such a long birth (again a posterior baby) as well as a substantial bleed. My third child was a planned homebirth, and thank goodness it was planned because it would have worked out that way anyway. Contractions came on hard and fast. Because of the previous labour, I figured it was just going to be hard and long again, but lo and behold, 43 minutes from the very first contraction, my baby girl was born into her Daddy’s hands. The midwife arrived several minutes later. It was wonderful. I attribute it to the yoga postures I practiced religiously in order to prevent a posterior baby, as well as receiving osteopathic work. As the time to give birth to the fourth child came closer, I became more and more anxious. I knew what my body was capable of. I began to be afraid to go outside. I was scared that I’d give birth any old place, like in the grocery store. Every time I felt a contraction (and I tend to get a lot of contraction activity in my last month of pregnancy), I was worried that this might be it. My daughter was being filmed for a tv show during my late pregnancy, and I started having a few contractions that were making me wonder if this was it. This is pretty normal in late pregnancy as the uterus warms up, but I panicked! I thought I was going to have to grab her and leave. Images of birthing in the green room of the tv studio or in the car during rush hour went through my mind and filled me with fear. My midwife Isabelle told me this was pretty normal for women who had experienced extremely fast births. My doula self knew my body would wait until I was in a reasonably safe place, but my pregnant mama mind was wary. On June 18th, my waters broke. It was just a little trickle, nothing to write home about. It was clear, but I knew it was amniotic fluid because whenever I went to pee, I could see little flecks of white vernix in the toilet bowl. I was debating telling my midwife this, because labour had not started and I didn’t want to get her into any trouble by refusing to go to the hospital after a certain amount of time. In many other countries (who have better neonatal outcomes than we do), the waters breaking is not treated as such an urgent event. Inductions are done regularly here, and I was not going to have any of that. I’ve seen enough inductions, and that option didn't sit well with me at all. I felt safer and more confident waiting, without receiving any vaginal exams. I trusted Isabelle, and told her what was going on. I didn't know my strep B status, and figured I'd ask her since my waters had been broken for awhile, and she confirmed it was negative. I spent the day a little anxious because a) I knew labour was going to start, most likely within the next day or 2, and b) I knew, given my history, that it could be really long or really fast. The good thing was that this time I had warning of labour, so I was able to get my younger children out of the house for the night. At my last birth there had been no time for that, and I worried about them listening to me yelling my head off and being scared. More than anything though, I just felt like I wanted to have the space to focus. I went to bed that night and had a great sleep. Seriously, it was such an amazing sleep, I'll never forget it. I don't know if I've had a sleep that good since Finn was born, and given that my insomnia is especially bad in late pregnancy, it was a shock to awaken in the morning without having gotten up even to pee. The body knows what it needs, and it never ceases to amaze me. At 5:30 am I had an strange sensation that felt more like the beginning of a bladder infection than a contraction. It passed after a couple of minutes. I tried to go back to sleep. Then, at 5:45 am, I began contracting for real. Wise to the fact that my body felt like it was gearing right into good labour without the warm up of early labour, I got up. My husband roused a little and I told him, “This is it!” and suggested he rest up a little more. I got up, puttered around, and he got up excited that he was going to have the greatest Father’s Day gift ever. We had a nice time, getting the coffee beans ground up, getting the kettle on for tea, and seeing that the morning was going to be beautiful, after days of rain. It felt like a magical day to have a baby, and oh was I looking forward to my baby! After about 20 minutes of labour I knew I had better call the midwife if I wanted her to make it to the birth. She asked if my contractions were very strong yet, and I said, “They’re getting there.” It takes her 30 minutes to get here from her place, so she said she was leaving NOW. My husband Mitchell and I went into our eldest child’s room and told her that I was in labour. We asked if she wanted to stay there or go to her friend’s place, and she said she wanted to be in the house, but not in the room as I was giving birth. She had been really into seeing her baby sister born when she was six, but at 13, the thought of seeing her mother give birth wasn't as appealing. She decided to go back to sleep, close the bedroom door, and turn on the air conditioner so she wouldn’t hear all the goings on in the house. As for doulas, my original plan was to have my beloved friend and backup doula partner Rivka be with me, but she had left for Italy just a few days before I went into labour. I had many of my wonderful doula students who were prepared to come at the drop of a hat, and in that moment I decided that I was going to have Sharon and Sarah. They are very close to Rivka, and they knew I was sad about her not being able to be there (as was Rivka), and I knew they would bring her along in spirit. Also, during my pregnancy they gave me such a huge amount of love,that I felt I wanted that surrounding me. They visited me, bought me great big cotton underpants when I complained about growing out of my regular ones, they stroked my belly, laughed with me, and I knew they were already in love with the baby. Sarah was 10 minutes away, so she showed up first. The midwife’s student came next, and Sharon followed, immediately taking me into her warm embrace. I felt like I could crawl into her lap and purr. We turned on some mellow music, and I got into labour land. I didn’t feel I needed any input our touch, just some really strong space holding. Sharon and Sarah smiled and sat there, which was all I wanted. It was what I needed. What I needed the most was my husband. With every contraction I fell into his arms and it felt so GOOD to be in those big arms, saying Oooooooo (my wolf noises, he called them) and “I love you I love you I love you”. The contractions were painful in a way, intense for sure, but actually a lot of fun. I was enjoying myself, getting into my groove. I was enjoying surrendering to birth. It felt much gentler than my 43 minute bungee drop of a previous labour. When Isabelle arrived, the midwife/doula effect kicked in. I’ve seen it before. When I show up at a woman’s birth, the contractions often pick up in strength and frequency. Well, the same happened when my midwife arrived. Things got faster and stronger, but it was still fun. I still had an awareness of my surroundings between the contractions, even a sense of humour at times. I felt completely safe within my little nest of good women, in the arms of my husband. I noticed that if I breathed right into my belly and let the air stay in there for awhile surrounding the baby and giving my uterus oxygen, there was much less pain. It was great to experience directly what worked for me instead of worrying about “techniques”. I remember Clearlight, my pre-natal yoga teacher, telling the class that listening to one’s own body and letting go of “techniques” was a better way to flow with labour. The tools we learned were guidelines, meant to be adapted and used creatively by each individual woman. Another thing I had really wanted to do during this labour was to stay absolutely present, concentrating on the sensations instead of trying to find mental tricks to disassociate from them. The mantra I kept playing in my mind was, “Accept it all”. After a particularly strong contraction which had me starting to squat lower to the ground and do some loud, low, uncontrollable vocal toning, I think I asked Isabelle if she wanted a coffee. Mitchell told me after the birth that she said she would have one later, because she didn’t think she’d have time to drink it then. I remember thinking, “Wow, if I’m going to have the baby soon, this will have been a breeze of a labour,” The next contraction, I felt a slight movement in my tailbone. Not that rectal pressure that heralds the baby’s imminent arrival, but an opening of my sacrum. I asked if anyone wanted to use the bathroom, because I was ready to do what I usually do during transition, which is to get myself under the shower with all the lights turned off. To me there is something primal and comforting about being in water in the dark. Isabelle went into the bathroom, and while she was in there I didn’t contract once. My body was waiting for me to get into my inner sanctum. When she got out, I turned on the shower, turned off the light, and got in. I didn’t want anyone in there with me. I’m a pretty private birther…I like knowing that there are people right outside, but I need privacy to allow my animal self to let go and cope with the storm of transition. I immediately crouched down low in the bathtub and suddenly the baby made a big drop down. I felt my bones open and the baby's head pressing hard. So much for a breeze of labour! Wow, it was intense, more intense than I have ever remembered labour sensations being. My husband came into the bathroom, just to sit there and be with me. The next contraction had me vocalizing so loudly, I was sure I was probably scaring my birth attendants (though in perfect trust of me, I found out later they were all just standing outside the door smiling and enjoying my baby arriving sounds). I felt like I needed to project my voice to its maximum level. I imagined that by doing so, I could make myself bigger to cope with the hugeness of the sensations that were taking over my body and mind. Between contractions I kept “accept it all” in my mind, but admittedly during those transition sensations, I thought that if it continued like that much longer I might just be tempted to jump out the window. Wow. I will NEVER forget those few contractions. Ever. I was SO thirsty as the adrenaline rush that women get before it’s time to birth started kicking in. It made me happy, because I know I always become consumed with thirst right before I start pushing. Mitchell handed me water. I was so glad to have him there. I guess after about five or so of those Tsunami contractions in the bath, my body started bearing down a little. I knew instinctively I was still in transition and not totally dilated yet, but it was getting close. I just let my body do what it needed to do. It pushed as I yelled. I begged Mitchell to tell me he could see the head. He couldn’t, but reassured me that it would be there soon. Bless him, I put all my faith in that statement. The beauty of birthing several children together is how well he knew me, my sounds, my behaviours….he was such a comfort. I checked inside myself for the head, but it was still pretty high up there. I was thinking that I just couldn’t do it much longer, whatever that meant. I mean, really, what choice was there? I was adamant about not giving into the urge to try to get away from the pain, so I just focused on the incredibly loud sound of my voice. Breathing my way Zen like and hypnotically through this would have been completely impossible. After a couple more contractions I checked for the head again and could feel the baby much lower. The sensations began to change from pain and pressure to deep pushing urges. Instead of yelling I was now grunting. Ah, relief, because the more the pressure built, the less it hurt. Mitchell asked me if I’d like to get out of the bath to have the baby. After all, there wasn't even water in it. I was just lying in the bath with shower water sprinkling me. I did want to get out of there because I wasn’t at all comfortable any more. I felt like I couldn’t open up my legs the way they wanted to open, and the porcelain was hard and unyielding. But I didn’t want to move because I was just so consumed. “I don’t wanna move”, I moaned, and probably cried a little. “I can’t, I CAN”T” I whined, feeling a little pathetic, but with Mitchell’s help I found the energy to do it after another contraction. I am SO glad he encouraged me to get out. I opened the door, squinting in the bright morning light, made my way across the hall to the bed amidst all the gently smiling people, and crawled onto it. The baby was on my perineum after a push. I was on my knees with my chest and face on the bed. I felt like I had to thrust my bum into the air as high as possible to open my bones and get the baby’s head out. “Oh, God, PLEASE let it come out, it HAS to come out!” I chanted. Normally, pushing out a baby is not so intense for me in terms of sensation, but every labour is different. And boy, was this different. I wanted to get the baby out, yet I really didn't want to push because it hurt. But if felt more uncomfortable to not push. So I did. I heard Isabelle telling Mitchell that the baby would go between my legs and under my chest as it birthed. Here I have to pause to mention how amazing it is to be trusted. Nobody assumed I needed to be saved. Nobody even assumed that the baby had to be delivered. A picture is worth more than a thousand words…I have a photo of Isabelle’s student about to touch me to tell me that I may want to get off my chest by raising myself onto my hands so I could gather up the baby when it came, and Isabelle’s hand is on hers, stopping her from disturbing me. She had told me a couple of days before that I was a woman who owned her labour, and her faith in me was unwavering. Mitchell and Isabelle were behind me. The baby’s head came out and it seemed like I waited forever for the shoulders to come out, though it wasn't like that. My first 2 babies were “caught”, and I guess the shoulders encouraged to emerge. My third came out totally painlessly in her water bag, nearly all of her in one contraction. This kid waited for a contraction while his shoulders aligned themselves in my bones before deciding to come out (posterior shoulder first, which is often the case in this position.) “Do you see the shoulders, PLEASE tell me the shoulders are coming out, PLEASE get it OUT!” I had never in my life felt so desperate to eject a child from my body. He felt so big. I heard Sharon’s lovely voice crooning to me, “Honey, it's coming, so soon, it's coming,” Her words poured over me like warm gentle rain. I will never forget Sarah, who was sitting very protectively in front of me (she is a genius at knowing where to be...she usually gives space, but in this case knew intuitively I needed someone near)...I looked up into her eyes, and probably with a very forlorn expression said, “I feel like I have a watermelon in my ass.” “Yeah,” she said with a look of great sympathy. It was perfect. I looked down and behind me (imagine being on hands and knees and looking between your legs) and I saw Sarah’s hand (coming from in front of me), Isabelle’s hand, and Mitchell’s hand.. not on the baby, but just underneath him so he wouldn’t fall if he squirted out fast. I was the very first to touch my baby's head (there's a great photo of this). Isabelle’s hands touched him with the gentlest, most tender of fingertips, guiding him so he wouldn't rocket out. Suddenly, I noticed in my endorphin haze that there was my baby hanging part way out of me. I snapped into myself. I bent my left leg so my foot was flat on the bed, reached down, and caught the baby myself. Sharon captured the moment with a photo. The cord went up between his legs so I couldn’t see his sex. I moved it aside and announced, “It’s a BOY!” I scooped my little boy into my arms at 7:42 am and turned around to face everyone. He was just fine. He didn’t breathe immediately and was a little floppy, but he was right there. Apparently I said, “Don’t worry, ALL my boys take a little while to start up,” as if I had around 10 sons. I had no tearing and hardly bled. My sweet Finn latched onto my breast well and was admired quietly by all. Isabelle went to get Big Sister Kayleigh from her room (she had slept through it all…our air conditioner is loud). After the placenta came out (even that was intense to birth, which was interesting), Isabelle covered me up and Kayleigh came in to see her new brother. She was absolutely beaming. I’ve never seen a prouder sister. Finn was still attached to his cord, and Daddy cut it after awhile. After we bonded as a family undisturbed for a long while, the others making us food, Finn received his newborn exam, as gently as you could wish. The little guy weighed 8lbs 3 ounces, which is quite a bit bigger than my other kids were. I have this incredible photo of Finn lying on his tummy naked on the bed with about five female hands on him, infusing him with love. Ah, if only he could remember that moment! Kayleigh put on his diaper and later on the sleeper that all of the kids wore as their first outfit, and kept saying, “oh, he’s so perfect!” My elder son Misha had slept over at his friends' house down the street. His friends were three little boys, all brothers close in age. When we called to tell him he had a baby brother, in about 2 minutes there were four little boy faces peeking around the corner of the door, with huge smiles and many missing baby teeth...it was a precious sight. Oona came home soon after and fell in love with her little brother too. I cannot imagine a more glorious birth. I am so unbelievably blessed. I keep thinking that so many women would have ended up being induced had their waters broken like mine had. It was very important for me to do what I was guided to do intuitively during labour, and I received that respect and support completely. When birth is viewed as a normal event, the energy from that healthy observation contributes to the health of a birth so much more of the time. But as a doula, I know there are no guarantees of anything, no matter what we do...basically, I am very very lucky. My midwife's role was to be the wise mama in the room, and to use her expertise only if it was needed. I trusted her many years of knowledge and experience to make clinical decisions for me if necessary, leaving me free to not have to worry about anything. No worry normally means better flow of hormones and mechanics. Feeling undisturbed AND having someone being quietly clinically vigilant is for me the recipe for a potentially amazing birth. I did not receive vaginal exams, and I was not “delivered”. I fully believe one of the reasons so many people "need" interventions during normal births is because birth is seen as a medical event and it’s feared, the stressful environment contributing to the woman having challenges accessing her most primal self. Birth is hard enough without having to labour with interruptions and naysaying. This is why I attend hospital births, to be the one to hold the space of birth as normal and sacred...to be the love in the room. Love in the room is crucial, and I am happy to say Finn was born into an ocean of it. And had his birth NOT gone normally, we would have gone to the hospital taking our good energy with us, my troupe lending their love and support throughout whatever intervention was necessary for our wellbeing. Another thing I do to set the tone for a good birth is to honour myself when I’m pregnant and allow others to honour me. I asked my friends to give me a Blessingway ceremony, which I had with my third child as well. We sang songs, everyone presented me with a power object to give me strength for the birth, and we all wore turquoise yarn around our wrists for the rest of the pregnancy, signifying our connection as women through birth. (I have a hilarious memory of Sharon and Sarah holding their wrists out to me after Finn was born saying, “Free us from these! They’re starting to wear us instead of us wearing them!” My friend Brigitte organized a meal chain for me, so I was fed and visited every day for 2 weeks by friends and students! My family was grateful for that, as it’s very hard to get enough to eat when you’re breastfeeding and taking care of children. The food was all nutritious and really delicious! Finn is a wondrous child, full of curiosity...a dreamer. You can see his sensitivity in his big greenish-grey eyes. He is much loved by his sister Kayleigh, his brother Misha, and his sister Oona. Finn means “bright one” and “beautiful”, which is appropriate, because he brought the sun along with him the day he came. Finn is also the name of a legendary Irish warrior who was, as the myth has it, raised by a Druidess and a female warrior. He was taught magical and healing skills, and guided his followers to choose the high road when making decisions. We only found out about a year ago, after reading a story in a book of feminist fairy tales, that in Irish mythology Finn was married to Oona, Queen of the Fairies. It is amazing how a child's name will fall into place if you give it a chance, and becomes rich in meaning for the family who blesses them with it.
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