Birth Story Contest 2019
Bonnie Jean-Louis is the founder of The Mom Job - Univers Mamans. With 20 years of experience as a professional Photographer and community health coordinator, she is a certified Labour, Birth and Postpartum Doula, PAIL Advocate and will soon be a Perinatal Educator. Trauma-informed and culturally-sensitive, she serves between Ottawa and Montreal. She is passionate about adequate evidence-based holistic moral support, the right to choose one’s primary care providers and preferred birth place. Everyone should have access to respect in birth, a village that fosters a sacred fourth trimester and opportunities that facilitate a positive matrescence into healthy parenthood journeys!
You can follow Bonnie at:
It all started in 1981 when my mother (who had been malnourished and abused as a child) was pregnant with me and confined to a bed for hours, hooked up to an electronic fetal monitor (EFM), and coerced to accept an epidural she never asked for. An episiotomy and forceps were used to deliver me, cone head and all, because they thought my heart decelerated alarmingly while making my way through the birth canal. Little did they know back then, that even though EFM was a great new tool, it was not necessarily accurate. As a big baby, I had to make my way through a passage that was probably stricken with rickets, and constricted by the supine position she was kept in.
Nonetheless, I was born alive, my mom survived, and my family was grateful for the doctor’s work, even though it left my mom emotionally and physically scarred for the second time. All the confidence she could ever have gained had been taken away from her. She had a traumatic birth that could be called obstetrical violence today. What would have happened if she would have been given a different birth environment? Probably a wonderful start into motherhood.
My mom got over most of her fear and gave birth to my sister five years later. She took this opportunity to give me the whole shebang of sexual education. My sister was born four days prior to my birthday by C-section because she was breech. My mother always thought her C-section was destiny so that she would not have to go through another bad vaginal birth experience. She was thankful ... until C-section complications arose. For a few days, they would tell her the after-pain was normal, even though she knew something was very wrong. It took the medical team five days to realize that she had a football-sized hematoma formed in her uterus. She needed another surgery to drain the excess blood. She came out of the hospital three weeks after my sister, and was in bed rest for three months. This experience was probably as traumatic as the first one, but only she knows. She is still fearful of doctors today, and who can blame her? But still, she believes they saved her life, and birth should happen in a hospital.
At fifteen years old, I was diagnosed with a severe scoliosis in my lower back and was told I might never be able to bear children. As is often the case with scoliosis, the cause was unknown, but they are sometimes caused by a forcep’s extraction at birth.
I was a bit depressed by this state of affair and was stricken by lower back pains. However, I finished my college education and made a successful career as a photographer and international development worker.
In 2001, I met the traveling photographer-author-midwife Muriel Bonnet del Valle, creator of the book La naissance, un voyage. She talked about the different ways of birthing around the world, and the idea that fear is the biggest inhibitor to natural birthing. This idea is emphasized through the work of French physician, Frédérick Leboyer, who advocated for natural births, and also the work of French obstetrician, Michel Odent, who favoured water births. I was mesmerized and inspired. I had hoped to carry a child one day, but I also knew that I had a lot of work to do mentally to overcome my own fears about childbirth.
Finally in 2007, I became pregnant with my son, and I immediately secured a midwife. I decided to have a hospital birth, but because our midwife did not have privileges at the closest hospital to us, we would have to make the drive to Montfort Hospital instead.
When the day finally came, we drove an hour and a half in morning traffic, hoping not to give birth on the side of the road. At the hospital, I laboured in the water and it worked best to ease my back pain. As soon as my water broke, my midwife emptied the bath. My midwife was amazing and she advocated for me with the ward doctors because they had thought they should intervene. But I was firm that as long as my life and my baby’s life were safe, I did not want any interventions. After 12 hours of labour, along with an anterior lip of the cervix at 10 cm for a few hours, I gave birth to my 9 lbs 1 oz son in the squat position. There were lots of tears but the hard work had finally come to an end. And in the end, I discovered that it was the birth I wanted!
All through my pregnancy, I prepared for the birth, but I did not prepare for the fourth trimester. At home with my newborn, breastfeeding was the next challenge. I knew I was going to succeed, but what a hard job it was! It took three weeks of no sleep, and pumping around the clock (without ever being able to sit straight, as I had suffered a tear that needed healing). I would fall asleep in the tub while pumping, and my sister or partner would finger feed my son until, finally, he latched on successfully.
YES! Finally! But, unfortunately, the challenges didn’t end there.
My son’s epiglottis wasn’t closed properly, so he threw up a lot at every feeding until he was eight months old. With this condition, it was hard for me to leave the house, and so the isolation inevitably led to my depression. I often say it took me close to five years to catch up on the energy lost of those first few years after my first born. If anyone had asked me if I wanted another child, there would have been no hesitation—hell no!
But sure enough, in 2016, we were surprised with a second pregnancy. Nine years after my first pregnancy, I had hoped things would have changed. Back then, my midwife had worked hard to gain hospital privileges. But it was still hard to find a midwife who could attend me all the way in Hawkesbury. I called every midwife clinic and birth centre, asking to be put on wait lists, when at 32 weeks into my pregnancy, I finally got a call offering me the care I was hoping for.
Once again, I read all the books and opted to have a water birth. My partner prepared well for this experience too. Then, on my partner’s birthday, I went into labour. My contractions started at around 6 a.m. At 9:30 a.m., we were having coffee on the front porch with friends who were visiting from Quebec City. After another hour of irregular contractions that lasted 8 to 15 minutes, they finally settled to two-minute intervals.
I called the on-call midwife who said that I may have to go to the birth centre. But I knew there was no way I was going to make the hour and a half drive there. So the midwife recommended I get into my birthing pool and see if things would calm down or speed up. Once in the tub, I knew there was no way I would ever get out of there! No way was I heading up to Ottawa, even if it meant delivering my baby with the local paramedics instead of a midwife.
Thankfully, an hour later, the midwife arrived from the city. My partner said goodbye to our visiting friends, and jumped in the pool with me. When I explained to my midwife that I had a severe scoliosis, she showed my partner how to do hip squeezes. That comfort measure was a savior! I came to understand later that my scoliosis had paralyzed my lower back while I was in labour. And being in the tub made all the difference in the world. I prepared well for my pregnancies, but nothing could have prepared me for this paralyzing sensation.
Instead of hating myself for not being able to move around, or being fearful of what was happening, I embraced the opportunity of floating while my partner and doula would rotate me in the water from time to time. If my partner was busy during a contraction, I would be in agonizing pain. But someone else would pitch in, and then I could breathe and relax through my rushes once again.
Three hours later, I felt the urge to push.I wanted to avoid another third degree tear, so I chose to trust my body and I followed my own rhythm. Suddenly, I felt the ring of fire and I appreciated that my body was telling me how close we were. I embraced the opportunity to feel my daughter’s head as it made its way through. After 10 minutes of pushing, I reached down and caught my baby girl.
At 3:37 p.m. (the hour of my own birth) on the 20th of August (my partner’s birthday), our 8 lbs, 14 oz daughter was born in the comfort of our own home. Two hours later, I was being fed a nourishing meal, my baby was sleeping, and we were left in our bed to cuddle and bond.
What a difference between my mom’s experience of giving birth and my second birth; such a long journey to change fear and powerlessness into confidence and empowerment from one generation to the next.
I now wish that type of transcendence in birth, to every birthing person out there, as I've felt, seen and been proven it can affect so many spheres in life. Every woman, child, family, and community, deserves such a paradigm shift of the modern birth culture.