It IS possible
It's been six months. I have relived those hours over and over again for these past months, and I feel like I have the perspective I need now to write it properly. I hope that in sharing this story I can encourage other expectant moms as you consider your options. If reading this isn't your jam, there's no shame in that. Just click off - I'll never know the difference. Before you go any further,I want to make it emphatically clear that my beliefs about birth are mine and mine alone. I am aware that every single woman has a different experience with birth, and I also believe that ever single woman needs to choose the birth that will be right for her. My choices and opinions are in no way superior, and they are certainly not meant to shame anyone else for their birth choices. That being said, I want to be free to share what I believe about birth without being judged, too. So let's be friends! Okay? Okay.
From the few days after I found out I was expecting, I knew that I didn't want my birth experience to be the typical Hollywood birth - water breaking on the sidewalk, screaming bloody murder in a wheel chair down the hospital hall, begging for the juice. I wanted to have more control over my experience, and I wanted it to be a comfortable, intimate experience that would be special to Tyler and me. I began to research home birth - I must have watched 100 hours of YouTube videos of home birth, water birth, and midwife attended births outside of the hospital setting. I was convinced that I could do it, and the idea of being in the comfort & privacy of my own home, surrounded by family, worship music, and familiarity was ever so appealing to me. I'm a bit of a hospital hater - I absolutely hate going to the doctor. I hate going to the hospital. I will avoid those situations at all costs. The more research I did, the more I began to believe that birth was never meant to be a medical procedure. There are times when we need medical intervention- these situations are beyond our control. To this I say, praise God for our medical institutions and the doctors and nurses who literally save the lives of mothers and babies every single day. But, in normal, low risk pregnancies (like mine), we get to lean into the power of what God created our bodies to do. We can choose to trust that they are beautifully and perfectly designed to conceive, grow, nurture, and then birth our babies. Birth is natural and beautiful and I don't subscribe to the media-pushed version that involves a lot of screaming and cursing and torture-esque scenes. Birth is not a war, its a privilege. I will always choose to see it that way, especially after our infertility days.
I was so privileged to find HOPE Midwives in Edmonton. Knowing how incredibly hard it is to get in with a midwife these days, I couldn't believe it when they accepted me so quickly. I also had no idea at the time that they were both believers! What an answer to prayer! I had envisioned this beautiful child coming into the world to the sounds of worship and covered in prayer. Having other believers to share in that made me even more comfortable. It was especially nice not to be pushed or questioned when I turned down genetic testing options and other unneeded procedures. They spent one Tuesday a month with all of their clients also due in February doing group classes to prep us for birth. As a bonus, some of those women have become my good friends even now.
The Days Before
The last few months of my pregnancy were miserable. Due to intense acid reflux (or GERD) I couldn't lie down, awake or asleep. I spent three months sitting up in a comfortable chair, during the day and night. If I could even fall asleep, I would wake in the night coughing and choking, sometimes the only relief was to throw up. By the time I was in my final weeks, I was begging my midwife, Heidi, to induce me. Of course, both of us knew that wasn't the healthy choice for the baby, but it didn't stop me from asking! I was truly the most miserable I can ever remember being in my whole life. When Heidi told me three weeks before my due date that I was already 3cm and 80%, I was ecstatic. Even she agreed that for a first time mom, that was definitely a sign that things would most likely move along sooner than later.
February 15, Early Labour
Three days after my due date, I had another appointment with Heidi at around 10am. I had awoken that morning around 2am with some slight cramping, but that had been happening on and off so I thought little of it. I had made a list of questions to ask her, one of which was: How long does this go on until you will induce me? Cause BRO. I AM OVER IT. I was sure I had another two weeks left. At the appointment, I told Heidi I'd been leaking a bit, but we pregnant women know - there is no end to the weird things that are coming out of you at any given time. Once again, we didn't think much of it. She did agree to check me, though, and do another sweep. In our classes, the midwives had told us that one highly unlikely risk of sweeps is that they can break your water. Heidi told us that in 16 years she had never broken a woman's water. Well, friends, I am Heidi's statistical anomaly, I am proud to say! The one and only! (I joked with Heidi and Tara later that in my misery I'd slipped her 100 bucks to "accidentally" break it.) We suspect that I was already in labor and my water was already leaking for it to have given way so easily. I didn't care in the slightest, and I still don't. I was so ready to get the show on the road! We left Heidi's with her saying, "I'll see you some time tonight!" We called our family and texted some friends to ask them to pray, and we headed home to wait for things to get going.
The day passed and I did the best I could to rest. I got some last minute laundry done, tidied the house, and tried my hardest to ignore the contractions when they came. They were irregular and varied in strength and so I knew we were a long ways off yet. My absolute favourite part of that morning was watching Ty try to process the reality that the baby. was. coming. He was flustered, excited, and paced, stood, walked, and sat in succession for about an hour after we got home. I, on the other hand, felt the strangest sense of peace and calm wash over me. I was truly ready for this day and I was so pleased it had finally come. I knew that Jesus was walking with us and would take care of the baby and me.
Early & Active Labour
We decided we had better start filling the pool around 4pm to make sure we would have enough hot water to fill it by the time I wanted to get in. My parents came after my mom got off work. I had told my dad that I wanted him to head home once things got serious but he came through the door and announced, "I'm here for the long haul!" I decided not to fight it *shrug*. We watched like three movies until finally I couldn't pay attention anymore. It was about halfway through that Denzel movie where he's a lawyer (see? I can't even remember what it was called) when I lost interest and started to get uncomfortable. Contractions had been regular for a few hours but they were easy to ignore. At around 11pm I needed to breathe and focus to get through them. This was now active labour. We turned off the TV, I turned on my music and began to labour in the living room. I was mostly on my knees draped over our ottoman, but I also did a fair amount of leaning on Ty. We did that for three hours until I decided to get in the pool. Heidi had told us to call at that point, so we did, and she arrived soon after.
Active Labour & Transition
When I got in the water, I felt instant relief and comfort. The hot water felt amazing on my weary muscles and took the weight off of my legs and back. I remember saying to Heidi, How does anybody do this without a tub? The relief was so amazing. It was a double-edged sword, though, because upon entering the water, my contractions picked up substantially. Between them, though, I was still able to talk and laugh with my family. My dad had been leaning toward me, holding my hand and whispering encouragements to me while I was labouring through a contraction when I, without looking up, snatched my hand away, put it up in his face and said, "SHHHHHH." Once the contraction was over he looked at Heidi, who was taking detailed notes, and said, "Heidi, I'd like you to mark down that Molly rudely shushed me during that last contraction." Hilariously enough, she had written it down. Apparently wanting silence and no distraction is a sign that things are progressing. We had a good laugh about that. I worked hard to keep my hands and jaw relaxed and to breathe slowly and deeply. I really believe this is what got me through the first 4-5 hours with relative ease. I was in pain, of course, but I managed well. My music was soothing and comforting. I loved making that playlist and using it during labour.
When I've told this story before, I always forget to mention the back labour. Yes, I had the dreaded back labour and yes, it is awful. About an hour after getting into the pool the back labour picked up and roughly an hour after that, transition began, and I was hurting. I was in transition for two hours (give or take), compared to most people's 45 minutes-1 hour, with contractions coming one on top of the other. (Ladies, do yourself a favour and don't listen to all the time estimates people like to give you. Your body does whatever the heck it wants.) It was some time in here that I lost complete track of everything - time, people, and my focus. At some point I asked for the music to be turned off, and I let myself say, "I don't think I can do this." Before I knew it, I was crying and begging Heidi to give me something to help with the pain. I kept crying out that I needed a break. I remember when I finally got a ten minute break, by the grace of God, and everything just stopped for a moment. I fell dead asleep draped on the edge of the pool.
Looking back, I had planned to put my earbuds in and listen to a different playlist I'd made just for that when things got really, really hard. But, I'd forgotten to tell someone about this plan and so nobody knew to offer it to me. I, of course, was far too distracted to remember that! Ty did an amazing job of staying calm and offering counter pressure on my lower back during contractions. My mom and sister also took turns keeping me cool with cloths dipped in ice water, stroking my hands and arms, and encouraging me. Nobody said much, but everyone stayed really positive, which helped me stay grounded and not panic when things were difficult! I distinctly remember looking at my mom's face through my bleary, teary eyes to see if she was concerned at all. Four unmedicated births makes her an expert on this. She always had a big excited smile on her face and she would say, "You're doing it, Molly! You can do it!" Heidi too, though it annoyed me at the time, would respond to every insistence that I couldn't do this with, "But you are doing it." And that is the reality of childbirth. When you think you can't, it's because you already are. You just have to will yourself to believe it.
Some time in all of this my mom suggested that Heidi check me, probably thinking it would encourage me. Heidi didn't say anything to me at that time, but she told me the next day that I'd only been at a six... just one centimetre more than when I'd left her that morning. This is why they don't typically check you - it doesn't indicate much. She came to the edge of the pool and got down next to me and said, "I want you to give me twenty more minutes, and then if you still want to, we can go to the hospital. But there's nothing we can do for you at this point, even there. You've just got to get through this." Something clicked in my brain then. Going to the hospital meant getting out of the warm water, changing into dry clothes, crawling into a freezing cold truck, and driving across town in the middle of the winter night whileI was feeling like my gut was being split open. No. Thank. You. I started to push.
February 16, Pushing & Delivery
I had no idea whether I was ready to push or not, but I was done. I felt the pool start to drain and then fresh, hot water was added back in. At the time this annoyed me to no end, but then I realized it was for the baby's arrival. Heidi began to bail water onto my lower back during contractions and that felt glorious. It only took a matter of seconds before my body kicked in and pushed for me. I enjoyed the breaks in contractions that came with the pushing, but I hated how out of control I felt when the pushing began. It is a powerful sensation that your body controls and you have to just give in and let it happen (not my strong suit).
At one point Heidi told me I could touch Bethany's head if I wanted to, which I didn't, but that was about two pushes in. She told me, probably 5-6 more contractions to deliver the baby fully. With the next contraction, I pushed, and Bethany was born, all in one swift motion. It shocked all of us, especially me. I didn't even really feel it happen. Ty grabbed her out of the water and handed her to me, which took some prompting because I really didn't clue in that she was out until that moment.
I will never forget the feeling of her brand new, velvet skin. I will never forget the weight of her on my chest and the sound of her tiny little voice after a few moments in my arms. I can never forget her big eyes looking at Ty and then eventually at me, and the silence in the room that indicated the holiness of the moment. I will never forget opening my eyes and realizing the sun had risen, the night was over, and my beautiful daughter was in my arms.
My dad tells me that he has felt God's presence most decidedly at two events: the birth of a person and the death of a person. It really did feel that way, as if the Spirit's presence was lingering around us. The only sounds in the room were the occasional comment from Ty or me about her beautiful eyes or her tiny little lip that kept puckering out, the snaps of Heidi's camera, and the audible sense of wonder we all felt at witnessing a new life enter the world. It is true what they say - once you're holding your baby, all the pain and struggle is completely forgotten.
We chose to wait until after the placenta was born and the cord was drained to cut it, which Ty had the honour of doing. Heidi and Tara (who had arrived just seconds before Bethany) then helped me out of the tub and up to my own shower (another lovely part of home birth). I changed into fresh clothes and crawled into my own bed. My dad brought us all McDonald's and Ty brought me the baby. Heidi weighed, measured, and checked her over - perfection. Within the hour, my midwives and my family had cleaned up the pool, cleaned my kitchen, gotten us settled and left us in peace to rest. We were told to sleep, but who can sleep when you've got a precious newborn to stare at?!
If you've made it this far, congratulations. I love reading others' birth stories, so I hope you've enjoyed mine. I hope you are encouraged to research your options and to not be scared to pursue birth the way you want it to happen! I couldn't be more thrilled with our birth experience, and I am so grateful to God for allowing it to happen safely and the way we had hoped it would!