A while back I shared a brief post from my younger sister, who gave birth to her first baby this fall. Her and her husband invited me to attend their birth in Calgary, a province away from where I live in Vancouver, BC. My partner decided to make a working-vacation of it, spending about a month in my home-province of Alberta while waiting for my sister to birth.
She wrote out a longer version of her birth story, complete with photos, and has decided to share. She gained so much from reading birth stories, doing her research, weighing her options carefully, and setting herself up for her best chance of getting the birth she wanted that she wants to pay it forward by sharing her story with other women who are doing the same. Enjoy!
I had always thought I’d have a hospital birth. After all, I wanted to make sure that my baby and I would be safe…where could be safer than a hospital? My sister Jessica is a birth doula and she told my husband and I that research shows home births are safer. But not until we began talking about getting pregnant and began researching and learning did I agree with her. I had read the articles she’s been posting for a few years but hadn’t really considered a home birth until this point. I completely immersed myself in learning as much as I could about birth and pregnancy. All I did while I was trying to get pregnant, and once getting pregnant, was read about this, and watch birthing videos! I had learnt enough from my sister previously to absolutely know I wanted a natural, intervention-free birth. There was no way I would be subjecting myself or my baby to the harms caused by drugs, vaginal exams, and birth “equipment” used at the hospital without necessity.
In my research, I soon discovered that if I gave birth in the hospital I would not be able to have the birth I wanted. MAYBE it could be intervention free, but not without a fight. And I knew I needed a calm environment to have the birth I wanted!
I already had had too many tense conversations with skeptical and concerned people who seemed to be doubting my sanity because I had opted to not get any ultrasounds done during my pregnancy (which was another topic I heavily researched before making this decision). I could only imagine the resistance I would get by refusing other technology in my labour!
The moment we found out I was pregnant my husband and I frantically contacted every midwifery group in Calgary to ensure we’d be able to have the birth we wanted at home. A few months went by, and I hadn’t been picked up by any of them. This is when I began researching unassisted births. I knew I had to have this baby at home, even if it was without the support of a registered midwife. This was a little scary for me though, and VERY scary for my husband.
So I called my birth doula sister Jessica, who lives a 12 hour drive away from me in Vancouver, and she said she’d come to our birth to support us. She runs a successful birth doula business, “Birth Takes a Village” and has experience attending births both inside and outside the medical system in Vancouver as a doula and freebirth attendant. This gave me the peace of mind I needed. She’s attended hundreds of births, and I knew she’d support my choices to have my birth as naturally as possible, but that she’d also help me to decide if/when I needed any medical support. Plus, having my sister there would allow me to keep my birth personal and intimate, which is exactly was I wanted.
As I continued learning, I realized this was the best possible outcome, and that although registered midwives are trained in natural birth (unlike doctors), in some ways they aren’t TOO different from doctors. They are still regulated by the government, and still have many boxes to check that keep their careers safe- meanwhile not necessarily making it easy for them to provide the the best possible care and to support women’s choices in childbirth.
My husband still felt a bit uneasy about this, so almost every night during my pregnancy I read my birthing books out loud to him. The book “Unassisted Childbirth” by Laura Kaplan Shanley helped him the most, particularly the birthing stories within it. The more he learnt the safer he felt with my choice to have a Freebirth.
I was initially seeing my family doctor for prenatal checkups. She was supportive of my home birth/midwife plan, but referred me to the low risk maternity ward at the hospital for just in case I didn’t get a midwife. Initially she fought me on my no ultrasound choice but eventually realized I wasn’t giving in. The low risk maternity ward refused to take me as a client solely because of my choice to not get ultrasounds. Apparently this made my pregnancy high risk; because how could they know if things were okay if they can’t see an image created by sound waves (despite the research that shows how often these are misleading and inaccurate! Bewildering.) Even my family doctor thought this was ridiculous.
Everything about me and my pregnancy screamed “normal” and “healthy” but the system scooted me over to a high risk obstetrician to continue my pre-natal care. Each appointment was awful. I felt so belittled each time, by all 3 doctors I saw there. Each time I went to these appointments and I answered the same methodical, impersonal questions, went along with the weigh-ins and belly measurements I kept thinking… Who are these appointments for?? Certainly not for me, and certainly not for my baby. I wanted to stop going but didn’t think I could (I thought… is it legal to refuse prenatal care!?)
Eventually one month before my due date I was contacted by a midwife, I was sooooo delighted. I was still certain that I wanted a Freebirth, but was excited to stop seeing the high risk obstetrician which felt so unnecessary and to continue my prenatal care with a midwife instead. Keeping my Freebirth plan to myself, I started working with a team of two midwifes. One of these women was supportive of my choices to do things naturally, the other met me with resistance to almost every choice I made, which was quite stressful for me. She seemed to have a really hard time juggling my right to make informed choices with her comfort zone of doing “standard procedure.” When I have my next child, I will be even pickier about how I choose to do prenatal care in order to avoid all the fighting and resistance I encountered this time around.
Finally, after all of the fights I encountered during my pregnancy… My labour began. I was so excited to be able to stop having conversations with people about my “risky” choices. I was in labour for about 50 hours altogether. Most people are horrified when I tell them this, but it was amazing. I woke up one night and knew my contractions had finally started. I was soooo thrilled. My husband Simon got up for work the next morning and I told him it had begun. Although we didn’t think baby was going to come that day, he stayed home from work. I was actually certain my baby would be coming the following night because I had read that there was going to be not only a full moon but a super moon… a rare occurrence.
For the first 24 hours, my contractions were pretty mild and about 15 mins apart, slowing down in the middle of the day. I set up my living room with my birthing affirmation banner & beaded necklace from my Blessingway that my sister had hosted for me a few weeks prior. I put candles out everywhere so they’d be easy to light once it was starting to get closer to baby’s arrival. I wanted my environment to be as beautiful and relaxing as possible.
That first day my husband and I went for walks, relaxed, and I even went for a massage – I had 4 contractions on the massage table but the masseuse had no idea – like I said – they were mild!
That night they started getting stronger, and closer together. I slept between each of them, waking up to each one and I sat up and leaned over to support myself, again not feeling the need to wake Simon. We had another great day, relaxing at home. My birth ball was my best friend that day, it helped me relax my back and hips which kept me from feeling pain. Simon rubbed my lower back with peppermint/coconut oil during most contractions which also helped me relax my body.
Later in the night the contractions began to get closer and more intense again. Jessica came over at about 10pm and supported me by making me tea and snacks and massaging my hips and back. Simon went to bed, and Jessica continued supporting me. I started fighting against some of the contractions as they got stronger. I kept thinking about what I learnt in the book “Childbirth Without Fear” by Grantly Dick-Read: fear creates tension, tension creates pain. Jessica helped me by repeating different affirmations, one of the most helpful being “THIS IS SAFE” (which I knew was true, everything felt safe and like it was happening as it should be).
The contractions kept getting more and more intense, but I was relaxed enough to sleep in between some of them because of Jessica’s constant reassurance with affirmations about my body, which I said with her. I asked her to talk throughout each of my contractions, when she stopped talking I would tense up! When I wasn’t sleeping, other times between contractions I was either chatting with Jessica or looking out the window at the full moon “super moon” that was on display that night.
Then I had a contraction so powerful, I felt immobilised for a couple minutes and vomited. This was around 1:30am. Simon got up and we had a long shower together, the hot water felt incredible on my back. I started fighting some of the contractions which made them painful, but Simon supported me with massage and affirmations which allowed me to give in and relax my body, melting the pain away. (Eg. I would start whimpering “noooooo noooo noooo” Simon would say “Yes yes yes, you’re body was made for this, let the contractions take over” and I would shout that with him “yes!! yes!! yes!!!”.
We got out of the shower at about 2:15 and I had a few more contractions leaning over the bathroom counter. Then I thought I could feel my baby’s head coming. Jessica said it was likely the water bag. The birth pool was inflated but not filled up yet… Things were happening faster than we expected! I got down, my knees on the bathroom floor, Simon behind me; my arms and head in Jessica’s lap as she sat down on the floor with me. Sure enough, the water bag came out and burst – which felt INCREDIBLE. The warm water running down my legs felt so good and relaxing.
With the next contraction my baby’s head began to emerge. It came out partially twice, the third contraction brought his entire head out, pink and crying! The very next contraction, his entire body slipped out at 2:41am. I did not “push” throughout this entire process, my body brought him out with my contractions reflexively. (I cringe now every time I hear a friend share how they pushed and pushed -often because of guidance from their doctor/midwife- and how painful it was for them).
Our son was caught lovingly and safely by Simon, as he also managed pushing Slate, our dog away (he was right there checking things out) and passed our baby boy underneath my body to me. I was able to have immediate skin to skin time with him. I had done it – no interruptions, interventions or medications throughout the entire labour and birth.
My placenta started coming about 15 mins later, but part of it stayed inside. Jessica touched my belly and suggested simply push the rest out- I said I can’t push, how do I push?? So she suggested for me to cough. I coughed twice and the rest slipped out easily- the entire placenta in one beautiful piece. I was so thankful for not having the midwives there- who had said they’d give me a shot of oxytocin to manage this third stage of labour. (One of the many reasons they weren’t invited to my birth!)
We called the midwife after the placenta came, to do the newborn exam & paperwork. Simon & I stayed on the bathroom floor cuddled together with Austin on my chest, umbilical cord still attached. I felt so good. I told Jessica that I didn’t rip- how could I have? It felt GOOD when he came out, I felt GOOD after, surely if I had torn I would be in pain?? She said it looked like I did tear, but she said we could wait for the midwife to check me out. The midwife was horrified that I gave birth without her. She walked in telling me how irresponsible I was, and how I wouldn’t have torn if she would have been there…. But when I asked what she would have done differently than what we did she didn’t have an answer. She inspected me and scared me saying I had horrible third degree tears, and that I had to go to the hospital immediately, and that I would need stool softeners and antibiotics. When I questioned this she again didn’t have answers. (If there was anything I wanted LESS than ultrasound… It’s antibiotics!! I wouldn’t be taking them without an extremely good sales pitch to convince me they were absolutely necessary).
Jessica calmly discussed the timing of going to the hospital with the midwife, and since the tears weren’t causing immediate danger, suggested that the midwife do the newborn exam and paperwork at home before us going to the hospital. So I had two straight hours of skin to skin with the cord and placenta still attached. We had planned to burn the cord but ended up just cutting it before going to the hospital, I felt like there was too much going on to be able to enjoy that process. The OB at the hospital was really great, told me my tears weren’t so bad, and easy to stitch up. He was confused when I asked if I needed stool softeners or antibiotics …. said of course I didn’t need either!
I was initially devastated that we had to go to the hospital but Jessica said if I had to go for anything, this was it! At least I was getting stitched up by a surgeon who does stitches all the time and is likely very good at it! I realized she was right, THIS is what the medical system should be used for. I also had skin to skin with Austin the whole time I was at the hospital, he just laid on my chest (thanks to Jessica recommending this!!) We were in and out of the hospital very fast and got back home for lots of rest and more skin to skin time.
I also had a great start with breastfeeding, which I attribute to all of the skin to skin time and the help from my sister. The midwives were really great with this the following weeks, too! I wouldn’t have been able to focus so much time and energy on breastfeeding if it hadn’t been for my mom and Simon taking such good care of me in those first few weeks. I was able to stay in bed and focus completely on getting to know my new baby and learning how to breastfeed while they took care of literally everything else.
My birth was pretty incredible from start to finish, filled with relaxation, love and positive reinforcements from Jessica and Simon, reminding me that my body was made for this, that I could let go and let my baby come out safely in his own time. I am so grateful for having had this experience and for the incredible support from Simon and Jessica. I couldn’t have asked for a better birth.
So many people talk about how painful and traumatic labour is; but by trusting my body, letting go of fear and tension and trusting that birth is safe and natural, it was a powerful and amazing experience, not painful, and definitely not traumatic! I hope that more women can learn to trust their bodies and have empowering birth experiences like mine.
~Jen R. and family, Calgary, AB.
I have had the opportunity to see birth in so many different contexts over the years: home and hospital, and with doctors, registered midwives, a traditional birth attendant, and on my own. Through these experiences, I’ve learned so much about how beautiful birth can be when the physiology of birth AND the birthing woman (and her partner) are revered. When my sister started expressing her desire for a gentle, undisturbed home birth, I knew I had to do anything she needed me to in order to make it happen. She knew what the medical system / medical professionals had to offer and the differences between planning a birth with and without that kind of medical aide. It’s important to me that women are supported in choosing the circumstances of their own births, and I wanted to support her home birth choices with as much or as little planned involvement from the medical system as felt right to her. Her chosen vision for her birth was something I was able to support; how could I not do everything I could to help her make it happen? Plus, the road from Vancouver to Calgary is a nice drive ;). I am so glad I was able to attend and that her family had such a beautiful birth. A pretty powerful way to start off their lives together as a new family. By the way, please always feel free to contact me for recommendations for midwives / birth attendants in Vancouver who support gentle birth choices.