Educated & Empowered: A Home Water Birth

by Birth Without Fear on June 16, 2017

My birth story begins a few years before my son was even conceived! While my husband, Jeff, and I were dating we discussed children multiple times. We both knew that we wanted to have kids but I remember clearly telling him that I thought I wanted to adopt since my fear of childbirth was too big. My husband is adopted and we’ve both always felt that it doesn’t take blood to make a family so that was our plan, we would adopt to spare me going through childbirth. Every time I thought about labor or giving birth my body would tense right up and I was filled with such anxiety about all of it. I’ve always thought that I had a very low pain tolerance and the thought of going through such agonizing pain from contractions was just too much for me! Not to mention that then there was getting that kid out – I’d either have to shove it out of my hoo-ha or get it taken out of me from surgery! No thank you! I knew that there was always the option of getting an epidural but I have severe scoliosis and was never quite sure if an epidural would work for me. Though I was confident I didn’t want to experience child birth, as my longing for a child grew, so did my interest in viewing birth photography.

I spent weeks looking at pictures of parents meeting their babies for the first time. My interest in birth photography then grew into an interest in birth stories. I read so many! Some stories of beautiful hospital births, some of brave women having cesarean’s (some by choice, some because of emergency), some of ecstatic parents meeting their adopted children for the first time, and some of peaceful home-births. Each story seemed to lessen my fear of childbirth a little bit more. My thinking slowly began to shift from this terrifying event to an empowering and beautiful process to be able to take part of. I decided that I wanted to be one of the “links in the endless chain of birthing women.”

When I found out that I was pregnant, I knew I wanted a midwife! Where I live it’s possible to get a midwife through the health region but it can be very tough to get into the program since there are only six midwives to cover all of the city and surrounding area! A few people had told me to call as soon as I found out I was pregnant so I called the very next day. I was incredibly lucky to be accepted into the program a month later.

I adored Alison, our midwife, the moment I met her! Alison took wonderful care of me throughout my pregnancy and answered all of my questions. Our midwife always made sure that we knew all of our options and what the pros and cons were to each. Even on her busiest days she took the time to explain things to me in great depth, I really began to trust her. We had been planning a hospital birth throughout our whole pregnancy but when I talked about the birth that I envisioned I always gravitated to home-births. I wasn’t sure how safe they were and I was also scared of the judgment that we would get once people found out that we had a home-birth. Unfortunately, a lot of the time home-births seem to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths because they aren’t educated on them. Alison showed us a lot of research that had been done on home-births to prove to me that they were just as safe as hospital births in low-risk pregnancies. I came to her with a list of possible hiccups during the birth and she explained to us what the procedure would be in each one. I really felt like we were making an educated decision that was best for us, so we decided to plan for our home-birth!

As mentioned previously, I have severe scoliosis. I have an ‘S’ curve with a small curve to the right in the middle of my back, and a large curve to the left in my lower back. Since I had read so many birth stories, I knew there was a slight, but rare, possibility that it could affect whether or not I was able to get an epidural. Because we were planning the home-birth my goal was for a natural labor and delivery, but Alison and I agreed that it was important to cover all grounds so she arranged for me to have an appointment with the head of the anesthesiology department at the hospital. I didn’t get the best news there unfortunately! They weren’t going to have a problem getting the epidural into my spine (which was my original concern) but there was a decent chance that the epidural would not properly administer the pain medication because of the smaller top curve of my spine. It might work – but he couldn’t guarantee it. The head of the department and I talked about what that looked like for me. He explained that if I wanted it, there would be other forms of pain management that I could take. Ultimately though if I needed to have a caesarean I would most likely be put right under with general anesthetic. Nothing changed about our birth plan, but I will say that I had a lot of anxiety about that and worried about who would be there to greet babe if I was put under since Jeff wouldn’t be allowed in the room either. There was nothing else we could do but wait and see what happened.

About a week later, just two days before my due date, Jeff had just finished working around 9:00PM we walked over to the drug store across the street and got a frozen pizza. We came home and watched a terrible show on Netflix then decided it was time for bed. Usually we are in bed by 10:00 but since he had worked much later than usual we ended up staying awake until midnight. Every night in the last two weeks of my pregnancy I had gone to bed a little anxious, I really didn’t want to be awoken by labor – I’m not sure why, but I liked the idea of being awake when the process began. I had just finished brushing my teeth and was sitting down to pee one last time before bed. I was sitting there and suddenly felt this pain in my back. It lasted around thirty seconds but the pain wasn’t super intense. I had back pain throughout my pregnancy so I thought it was probably just that – plus it was still two days before my due date and I had convinced myself that I was going to be overdue! I was getting up from the toilet when my water broke. I wasn’t entirely sure if it was my water or not, but it kept leaking so I had a fairly good idea. Jeff remembered our birth classes and Alison telling us to check for COAT (color, odor, amount, and time) and it seemed everything was normal so far. Jeff asked me if he should fill up the birth pool but I just couldn’t believe what was happening so I said no. Was I really in labor?

My contractions started out five minutes apart but only lasted about thirty seconds. I called a girlfriend of mine who is a labor and delivery nurse and she assured me that I was in labor! She told me to hang up the phone and call my midwife, so that’s exactly what we did. We explained to Alison what was happening and she told us that although my water broke, I could very well be in labor for another 24 hours. She asked me to take a Tylenol, get into the bath tub, and try to get some rest. She explained to us that the bath would probably space out my contractions but have them become longer. She asked me how the pain was and I said it was tough but manageable. At this point I was still able to move around and talk on the phone. Jeff had set up the birth pool while I was on the phone and asked if he should fill it up but I told him to hold off for now. I got into our bath tub and the water felt so nice but I didn’t like that I wasn’t able to move around much. After about half an hour in the tub my contractions sped up to 2-3 minutes apart but lasting between 30-45 seconds. The pain was getting intense! I got out of the tub but my body was not happy. I felt like I was having a terrible flu, I started throwing up that darn pizza! My contractions were getting more and more intense. I was still having mostly back pain but I remember being able to feel my hips literally separating so we decided to call Alison again.

We explained to Alison that my contractions were 2 minutes apart now or less, but they still weren’t lasting quite a minute. Some of them were as short as 30 seconds, and some were 50 seconds, but they didn’t last longer than that. Because of the strange pattern in my contractions she was fairly sure that I was in early labor still, but she asked if I would like her to come check me and I did. I told her that the pain was getting very intense and if I was in early labor then I wanted to talk about what my options were for pain management. She told me that it was going to get a lot more intense and I would really need to focus if I wanted to have the home-birth that I had hoped for. At this point I had decided that if this was early labor I was definitely going to the hospital for some kind of drug, so I once again told Jeff not to fill up the tub.

I labored on our bed while we waited for Alison. I didn’t feel like I could move around much at this point so I tried to just stay as calm and comfortable as possible. The contractions were still quite random but on average were 1.5 to 2 minutes apart. While I was laboring I felt a little chilled and said “socks” to Jeff. He ran out of the room and came back with the small bin of baby socks that we had purchased! Jeff and I are “How I Met Your Mother” fans and if you’re familiar with the show you’ll remember an episode where Lily decides she wants to have a baby because she sees some cute little baby socks. Throughout my pregnancy that was a little joke that we had when we bought baby clothes! At this point though I wanted socks for my feet, not to look at. I still laugh whenever I think about that!

Alison arrived around 3:00 A.M. We talked for a little bit about how I was feeling and she coached me through a few contractions. The pattern to them still wasn’t consistent, she explained that one of two things was happening: either the baby was in a strange position causing the irregular contractions or the baby was coming very quickly. My family has a history of fast deliveries so although in my head I was preparing for the worst, I was really, really hoping that I was fairly far along. I’ll never forget what Alison said when she checked me! “Tessa! Oh, Tessa! You’re having this baby at home.” I replied, “Yeah?! Really?” And she said, “You’re a 7!”

And that was it. If I had gotten to 7cm dilated with thinking that I was in early labor, surely I could see this through! That was the confidence boost that I needed. Since our baby was coming quickly, we needed to prepare! Jeff now had to hurry to fill up the pool since I kept telling him to hold off. Alison had to bring all of the birthing and emergency equipment into the house and set it up, and she needed to contact another midwife to come for the birth. I moved from our bed to the couch so I could soak in the hustle and bustle of the night. It was so exciting. I had read so many books on labor and written cue cards for myself to meditate on. I didn’t use the cards in labor but I had read them so many times beforehand that I was still able to think about them during contractions.

That time between 3:30 and 4:30AM are some of my fondest memories from my birthing experience. Our sweet dog, Timothy, came and snuggled up beside my leg. Since the baby was coming quickly Jeff and Alison were both busy and couldn’t spend much time with me but I never felt alone. As cheesy as this sounds, Timothy was the sweetest birth coach! One of the best notes that I had read was to really take time to enjoy the moments between the contractions. I thought about celebrating their birthday a year from then and how excited I was to plan the party. I thought about seeing their little face and holding them for the first time. I thought about all of the women around the world birthing with me at the same time and how incredible it was to be a part of the circle of life. Although the pain was intense when I was contracting it was just such a beautiful thing to be able to experience. My body knew what to do!

I started to feel the urge to push but the second midwife wasn’t at the house yet. Alison had tried to call the other two midwives on her team but neither of them were able to make it there quickly so she called a midwife on the other team who agreed to come right away. Alison told me that if I felt the urge to push not to resist it and asked if I was able to move into the tub. The tub was full enough to get in so I slowly made my way into it. The water felt phenomenal! I know everyone says that, but it’s true!

When I got into the water I remember thinking that labor is just so weird. At that moment I felt completely, 100% normal and was not experiencing any pain at all. It’s hard to believe that there are moments like that in labor but there really are! I started pushing shortly after 4:30AM. Pushing felt great. Pushing took away almost all of the pain from the contractions. I remember the other midwife coming into the house when I was in the middle of pushing. I hadn’t met her before and I didn’t want to be rude so I grumbled out “helloooo” to her! Jeff had pots of water boiling on the stove and between staying with me he would run to get a pot and dump it in to keep the water warm. At one point while I was pushing he dumped the pot of water partially on his hand but decided it was best not to mention that while his wife was in labor – smart guy! I pushed slowly and only during contractions. I put my hand down and felt lots of soft hair, the baby was getting closer. I had read about the “Ring of Fire” and I totally get why they call it that. There really is no better explanation for that pain. Our sweet babe was crowning and I was making sounds that I didn’t even know I could make. I kept my eyes shut the entire time I was pushing so I had no idea where anyone was. Jeff and I had talked about the birth numerous times before and he always said he didn’t think he would watch the baby coming out but, to my surprise, he did! At 5:20 AM I felt instant relief from the pain.

I looked down and there was this tiny little babe in the water. The chord was wrapped around his neck and as Alison unwrapped it she told us that that was actually very common. It made me so happy that she wasn’t concerned in the slightest about it. And there was our baby! After all of that: all of the hoping, dreaming, and praying – our baby was here. They placed the baby on my chest for immediate skin-to-skin. We looked down and saw that it was a sweet little boy. We did delayed chord clamping. Alison let us feel for the pulse in the chord to slowly disappear; while we waited, it was so cool watching the colour come into his body from the chord. When the pulse was gone, Jeff cut the chord. He says that it was firmer to cut than he had been anticipating. It was all so magical! In our birth plan I had agreed to a shot of oxytocin to speed up the birth of the placenta. After a few minutes, I was feeling ready to push again so I gave the baby to Jeff for skin-to-skin. Pushing out the placenta was a breeze compared to the baby.

Shortly after I slowly stood up out of the tub. What a weird feeling! It was almost as if my insides were all falling back into place. I distinctly remember feeling my organs shifting. I walked over to our bed where Alison had set up a cozy and clean area for all of us. She assessed me and determined that I had a second-degree tear. I snuggled our new babe while she stitched me up. They asked us what his name would be – Everett! After I was stitched, Everett found his way to the breast to nurse. He latched on right away and was happy to be eating. Alison then took Everett’s measurements, heart rate, and got his weight. He was 20.8” and weighed 8lbs, 6 oz. Jeff and I both thought that he looked so small when in reality he was a fairly big baby! The midwives stayed with us a while longer to examine Everett and I then they left us alone as a new family of three (four if you count Timothy). The experience of having a home birth was phenomenal. I loved the comfort of being in our own home. Our family came over the next few days to make sure we were well fed, our house was cleaned, and our garden was even planted for us!

Having a baby is strange – beautiful, but strange! When I saw Everett for the first time I knew that I loved him without a doubt, but I remember thinking that I loved my dog more than him. Yup! I remember lying in bed thinking, wow, I love my dog more than my baby, I probably shouldn’t have a kid! The first night we were getting ready to go to sleep and Everett started to scream at around 10 PM and all I could think was “what have we done?” It took time for me to fall deeply in love with him and that’s something I wasn’t prepared for. I felt somewhat disconnected from the whole thing, Alison assured me that that was normal, but I wish that as mothers we talked about that experience more! I think that’s why skin-to-skin is so important for parents and babies. The next few weeks were challenging, my hormones were somewhat everywhere and I was a little nervous to be responsible for a tiny human. Jeff took two weeks off of work when Everett was born and I’m so glad we had that time together as a family. Jeff took the lead with diaper changes and would walk with Everett in the night while I was healing from the birth. Jeff was the more patient parent right out of the gate, it all seemed to come really natural to him but it felt like a bit of a struggle for me. I had never been around baby’s much and even though we took a lot of classes, I still felt like I had a lot to learn.

Breastfeeding was hard! There was a lot of pain but I was determined to keep going with it. Everett had a tongue and a lip tie which at the time we decided to leave but in hindsight I think that was part of the reason we had such a battle finding a good latch. Luckily our midwives were great for showing us some different nursing positions and the lactation consultants were wonderful resources!

Everett is eight months old now and I really do love him more and more every day. Watching him grow and learn new things is so exciting. Birthing him was challenging, but by far my greatest accomplishment in life. I am so proud of what my body has done. Having a home-birth, for me, was the ultimate way of conquering my fear of childbirth. I absolutely loved the experience of it all. Before I had him, a friend of mine said that she wished she could birth a baby every day – I thought she was crazy! But I understand what she meant now as I, too, wish I could birth a baby every day. It is the most wonderful and empowering thing I have ever been a part of. What a beautiful gift, and honour, it is to be able to grow and birth a human being!

Story and photographs submitted by Tessa N. 

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