Birth Story Contest 2019
After leaving Ontario at the end of high school for adventures in Montreal, Lake Louise and Vancouver, Anne-Marie and her husband moved back to Kingston in 2010. While living in Vancouver, she was immensely lucky to have been the Office Manager at Pomegranate Community Midwives from 2006 to2010. She remains eternally grateful for everything the community taught her about the strength of women and the power of birth.
Her boys are now eleven and fourteen years old, and they live in the Skeleton Park neighbourhood.
Oliver’s Birth On April 21, 2008, I was blessed with a lovely home VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) of my baby boy, Oliver. This is our story.
Oli’s four-year-old brother Sam was born in May 2005 at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver B.C., after an uneventful pregnancy. However, it was a complicated, stressful, and long labour, ending in a cesarean following failed forceps. I often joke (somewhat) that I had experienced almost every complication during his birth. A classic cascade of interventions including induction at 42+2 days past due, epidural, oxytocin, maternal fever, heart rate decelerations, exhaustion, and a baby boy who was born angry at the world, having endured such a stressful welcome. While I recovered from surgery, Sam spent a few hours in the NICU after being resuscitated. It was hours before I saw him, and I’d always felt cheated at not having been there to hold him during his first hours.
In a weird and fateful twist of events during my year of maternity leave, I was offered a position as the Office Manager at Pomegranate Community Midwives, and soon learned that such birth experiences—while certainly not all negative—are unfortunately more common than I had thought in hospital settings.
When I became pregnant with Oli, I hoped this experience would be different; better. Luckily for us, our midwives were also our friends and so it was easy to convince my husband, Neil, that it would be best for us to birth at home. I spent the next few months telling everyone that we were hoping for a home birth, but I knew full well that sometimes things are beyond our control; mamas get tired, labour takes too long, babies just don’t want to be born at home, and you might have to make the difficult decision to transfer to the hospital to birth your baby. Since I also had the risks of a VBAC to consider, I knew that the stars needed to align for Oli’s birth to go according to our “plan.” I knew the risks and the rewards of both birth locations and yet deep down, I so very much wanted this baby to be born at home.
Starting at 37 weeks, I did a lot of labour prep in hopes of not going late again. I began weekly, then twice weekly acupuncture sessions, drank a lot of birthing tea, took evening primrose oil caplets, and did everything else my midwives and doula suggested.
At approximately 39 weeks, I started experiencing very mild contractions on and off for the weekend. I continued with my days spending my time shopping, going out for lunch, and resting with friends and family. The contractions were coming every twenty minutes or so. I was able to walk through them, breathing and distracting myself. On Friday and Saturday night, at the suggestion of my midwives, I took a warm bath, some Tylenol and Gravol, and had a good night’s sleep. However, by Sunday morning, I was tired of “niggling” and wanted to get things going. I went to an acupuncture session I had previously booked and hoped I would meet my baby soon.
That night while my husband was getting Sam ready for bed, my contractions suddenly picked up in strength and intensity. My husband came down to the living room at 8:30 p.m. and found me in tears on my hands and knees. Initially, I was scared. I had been dealing so well all weekend and though I had wanted this so badly, I was afraid of the sudden intensity of the pain. Could I really do this? Neil ran a warm bath for me and the water felt wonderful, but the contractions continued. Every time a contraction began, I would curl over on my side, close my eyes, and moan. Neil grew nervous, asking if I needed our doula Aleksandra to come, and if we needed to page the midwives.
It’s interesting to me that even in the midst of labour, I worried about what I was supposed to sound like—what were those guttural sounds I was supposed to be doing? Was I breathing right? Was I labouring correctly? At 9 p.m., the intensity increased enough that my husband called Aleksandra who arrived shortly after. Contractions were coming every two to three minutes, lasting sixty seconds. The three of us laboured together for about two hours; in the bath, then walking around our house while Aleksandra offered encouragement and sips of water, and Neil held my hand through contractions.
I once read in a blog that during labour, I can expect to “grunt and sweat and pant and push and poop and moan and rock, and I will probably even barf. This is what it will take to get my baby out, and this is okay. I don’t have to like it. I just have to do it.” This particular passage resonated with me and it mirrors how I saw my experience. I vocalized a lot during labour; yelled, moaned, cried, and just let myself be in the moment. Let myself be scared yet strong in the comfort of my home, surrounded by people who loved me.
Sensing that labour was coming along quickly, Aleksandra paged our midwife at 11 p.m. and she arrived a few minutes later. By this time, I was walking around our house, working to get Oli in the best position possible by doing lunges, squats, and leaning into Neil whenever a contraction would hit. Immediately upon arriving, Janice listened to Oli’s heartbeat and everything sounded great! At 11:50 p.m., while sitting on the toilet, labouring, my water broke with a pop and a gush! This is one of my most vivid moments in my labour and it coincides with when I hit transition. I remember losing control and looking into the toilet to see if the fluid was meconium-stained (which might have necessitated a transfer to the hospital). I also remember Janice saying to me, “you’re in transition!” and I thought, of course, I am! This makes much more sense and totally explains why I’m having a hard time coping!
At this time, there was a bit of flurry to get me to the couch, since Janice hadn’t even had a chance to check me to see how dilated I was—9.5 cm! I was in shock and I remember laughing when she told me that. I knew then that I could do this!
While I continued to labour with Neil at my side, Aleksandra filled the birth pool, and Janice called for back-up. Once my urges to push got stronger, I started pushing in the pool, alternating between floating on my back and squatting, holding on to Neil for support. I pushed like this for an hour but couldn’t quite get enough of a grip for the pushes to be effective enough. At 1:40 a.m., I got out of the tub and sat on the birthing stool and that’s where I really felt myself pushing. Pushing was by far the strangest and most powerful sensation of my entire labour. It felt out of control—my whole body pushing, every fibre, every muscle working to get this baby out.
Not long after I sat on the birthing stool, our “little” 9-pound Oli was born and was immediately placed in my arms, wailing his lungs out. I had done it! Drug-free, complication-free, the way that I had imagined it could be, and the way I had dreamt it would be. We cuddled and bonded, nursed and snacked, while admiring our new baby boy in the quiet and comfort of our living room.
Shortly after, Janice helped me shower, dress, and then she tucked us into bed. I was suddenly exhausted! Oli met his big brother Sam (who had slept through the entire thing!) that morning and life continued on as it should. In the end, Oli’s birth was a lot easier than I had anticipated, yet much more intense than anything I’d ever experienced and I will be forever grateful.
“There is a secret in our culture, and it’s not that birth is painful. It’s that women are strong.”
— Laura Stavoe Harm