Birth of the Tiger
By Ashley Lightfoot
Residing in Squamish, BC with her partner, Eric, two kidlets, and a kitty, Ashley became a certified doula after the birth of her first child. She adores helping families create peaceful and joyous transformation. Ashley is a member of the BC Doula Services Association, as well as the Tantalus Wellspring Society, a charity that assists those experiencing barriers in accessing mental wellness therapies.
She can be reached at www.moonbeamdoula.ca
I look over the records.
That bottom section for Comments - ‘if not normal’.
And under it, in midwife’s script,
“Unattended home birth.”
Thought I was in labour on Saturday - then again on Monday night.
Gotta just go with it.
Woke up at 4 and didn’t feel the kick-kick-punch - got worried; couldn’t sleep.
Ate till I felt movement, slow and lazy.
Not its usual self - losing space? Conserving energy?
Thirty-nine weeks tomorrow; moon waning.
Tiger, will you be a true new moon baby?
We’ll go with your flow.
My second full-term babe.
This time around, I opted for early testing, and declined ultrasounds. The tiger even swam violently away from the doppler at our first check-up, so we decided to use the fetoscope for the rest of the pregnancy. Blessed and thankful to be able to combine science and wisdom, and decide what worked for our family. No paparazzi in our world; just our language; our dreams; our hearts and the networks functioning from them.
I felt a bit silly, a bit disappointed with myself to find I had more anxiety with this pregnancy, despite feeling so well-informed. And then I was reminded that worry is part of the work of pregnancy - this web of unknowns. The shadow side of life, flip-side of death. Magic.
I was ready. I was excited! My first birth was long, at home, in water. Babe had been looking up and cocked to one side - acynclitic, brow-presentation. I felt invincible afterwards. The sensations were so intense, the duration so exhausting. I had caressed the face of the creator. I was waiting for that again, excited for hormones to send me back to space, back to “labourland”. I knew that second labours were generally much faster, but I didn’t want to rely on it. My strategy was to mentally prepare for it to be more grueling than the first; if it was similar or easier, good. Gravy.
The day of (40 weeks+):
I went to a friend’s farm and hung out with the horses.
In my pelvis, a tickle; like a balloon blowing up halfway and deflating.
I thought back to a friend’s second babe; the Braxton-Hicks contractions went on for a week.
We kept petting the horsies, the toddler and I.
I wasn't convinced at all.
Later that afternoon, I told the husband I felt a bit unusual, but he should take our kid to swimming lessons.
“I’ve been asked to meet up for a beer afterwards…” he hinted.
“Sure, why not?”
Some spotting. A little mucus plug? A little cramping.
Then I started working on my massive sewing pile.
Years’ worth of sewing. Wait - what am I doing?
This was enough of a red flag that I texted my doula.
Legs a little numb.
“I’ll make sure I’m in the area,” she says.
It’s about 4:00 p.m.
Some bright red blood.
Sewing continues, and for some reason, I throw on Scheherazade as my background music.
The family returns and husband makes dinner happen.
I’m not contributing to the household.
It’s 7:00 p.m.,
But eating. I can’t be THAT far along if I’m eating.
The world seems pretty normal.
Not going inward at all.
I request a doula visit. It’s 8 p.m. and our kiddo is going to bed.
We talk till 8:30. I’m talking through contractions.
The mood is light.
“Would you like me to set up the birth pool?” she asks.
“Well,” I ponder, “the husband will want something to do -
And I don’t want to be a watched pot.
Hang out at your friends’ place and we’ll call you.
I’m going to have a shower.”
The husband is putting our eldest to bed, so I text him an outline of tasks, with perfect spelling and grammar. So, OF COURSE I’m nowhere near birthing.
I go to the bathroom not only to try to have a shower, but in the hopes of making some bowel room too. I mean, that’s what you do, right? You poop and puke and eventually a baby comes out. Or, at least, that’s what happened last time.
I turn the shower on, but can’t make it in. I’m floored by pain, gripping the side of the bathtub.
Then an excruciating stab on my left side puts me on all fours.
I still don’t get it. I’m far too ‘conscious’.
Back from bedtime duties, the husband walks in, surveys, and wonders if I should get in the tub.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to get out again. I need to get to the bed…and where’s my water bottle?”
I get into bed, water bottle in hand - and quickly realize that it’s hard for me to put the cap back on.
“I’m gonna need someone to feed me water through a straw soon.”
Finally, a sign that makes me realize I’m in a later stage of labour.
To ease my discomfort, I move to side-lying on my right side.
I instruct the husband to inflate the birth pool, and soon after he leaves the room, the heavy-duty, super-loud HUMMMMMMM of the electric air inflator whirrs up; it’s the perfect muffle to the sudden mega-push that breaks my waters and moves the Tiger’s head right down with IMMENSE pressure.
(Oh, and also voids my bowels, quite prodigiously, at that).
During that push I had screamed like I was being straight-up murdered. Thank you, ambient air pump noise for helping me get it all out! It was so primal - delicious - hilarious. Noticing the open window, I muse about what the neighbours can hear, and whether police services have been dispatched.
Also, in that moment, I wonder… why am I still so freakin’ with it?
Where’s my cosmic trip to search for life’s ultimate truths?
Then again, my body has taken over enough that speaking is not easy for me.
I had been in my alpha-brain, but was going down fast.
The husband walks in, and basically sees that I have pooed myself.
This is his major concern… so he grabs a towel and starts cleaning that up, bless him.
Birth is now coming fast and furious - I’m having some extreme hormone downloading, adrenaline spikes - hours rolled into minutes, and so all I can really say is “baby…baby”.
He thinks, funny - she doesn’t usually call me baby.
Then he takes a closer look and exclaims, “Is that HAIR???”
Not having signed up for this, he says “I’m paging the midwives”.
I’m too caught up to communicate my feelings, which, at the time, are… NO DON’T LEAVE I COULD KINDA USE YOU RIGHT NOW.
Another huge push takes me over.
There’s a lot of pressure; this is it, I think, so I put my hand to my perineum - POP. Baby’s head is out. Husband’s yelling into the phone “we have a head…we have a baby”.
It’s 9:15 p.m.- forty-five minutes from when I sent my doula packing.
He hangs up and comes over - surveying his second born’s head sticking out of me.
“It’s blue,” he says.
“That’s okay,” I say.
Husband: “I think it’s trying to say something! I think you need to push the rest of it out.”
“Has it turned?” I ask.
Having not really expected an unassisted birth, I had not briefed him in the fetal mechanics of birth, which includes the very adept fetus rotating to most efficiently birth its shoulders.
So, I rephrase - “has its head rotated yet?”
“What? I think you need to push it out.”
Although I’m quite sure everything is actually going fine, I start scanning for any complications…
“Is there a cord around its neck?” (not necessarily a big deal, BUT) …
”I don’t think so.”
I’m still not sure whether it was the stress of the husband or whether it was gonna happen anyway, but I went “inward” and summoned another contraction…it did feel like it met me on the astral plane… it was like, “oh, hello - I was almost there, but thanks for joining me”.
With it, baby’s torso comes out. Hips still in. It performs one more twist and my body pushes the rest out. Ta-da!
The husband puts the Tiger on my chest. I gently rub; connect; let the baby do what it needs to do. Some sputtering, and all is well. It knows my heart, my breast - it’s home again. Cord pulsing, helping it switch over to this whole terrestrial breathing thing. These next few minutes are a beautiful blur.
Our doula shows up and the husband steps out for some air. I wish I could remember these moments better, hanging out with this new life. All I know was that forty minutes felt like a flash. I’m asked if I need anything. I feel it’s time for dad to have some newborn skin to skin time. He gets in bed beside me - after all, that umbilical cord is attached to a baby, and still attached to a placenta, and that placenta has yet to be birthed. So, we have to be pretty close. Also, I would like that glass of red wine I’ve been wanting for months. I feel like a Viking Queen demanding my mead, and drink in that fashion.
The love hormones have effectively hotboxed the bedroom, and the victory drink has been tasted… next comes talk that I should probably put some effort into birthing the placenta. So I try to push - it feels huge, daunting. Harder than the birth. Then the husband pipes up: “well she birthed efficiently enough with you not here, so how about you all leave again?” As soon as the room clears, it slides out effortlessly. I’m so grateful for the husband, the way he stepped in to make sure I was given the space I needed. The perfect intimate advocate.
Placenta detached - time for a re-set. I’m all for maintaining the hormonal aspects of birth, but this bed I’ve been on is covered in blood, amniotic fluid, and feces. And to a lesser extent, so am I. I go to the bathroom for a shower. I shake SO hard. That was a tremendous fetal ejection. Soon after, the Tiger gets weighed. “Ten pounds, three ounces” the midwife exclaims.
Our cat sits proudly between the baby and placenta, and we prep the area for the umbilical cord burning - but not before snapping a photo of the true knot in the cord, protected from tightening by Wharton’s Jelly, and brilliant design. It’s about 1 a.m. before the birth high wears off enough to consider sleep. Our lovely birth workers have stripped and re-made the bed. And now, to sleep the gorgeous sleep of mama and babe on this pristine bed; teaching Tiger how to breathe, how to feed, and the warmth of human touch - all of new life’s necessities.
Over the next few days, life will return to its mundane tasks, with the 24/7 task of infant care piled on top. But not without some transcendent moments of bliss. My first postpartum was, like many, awash with this extraordinary newness, as well as a somewhat terrifying, hyper-alert sense of responsibility. This time around, I found moments where I felt bathed in the elementary particles of bonding. The husband was home keeping house, the neighbours brought food and didn’t linger, even some home-visit acupuncture to ease my post-labour pains! With all of that beautiful support, I was left to do the most important work, and relaxed enough to receive the pure spiritual simplicity of love between baby and birther. The husband and I still sit back sometimes and start de-briefing on that night. We pull the memory out as one would an after-dinner treat from the freezer. “You manifested that” he says. It wasn’t the story either of us thought we’d be telling, but here it is - the story of The Tiger.