*It is not advised to freebirth at home. If you choose to have an unassisted birth, be prepared and have back up plans. Unassisted birth can be wonderful, but is not a safe option for everyone. ~Mrs. BWF
The River She Is Flowing by Kathryn with The Mother magazine.
The birth story of our sixth child begins with my Blessingway ceremony. Three weeks before my EDD, four friends, my sister Mariah and Veronika and her daughters Bethany and Eliza came to my home to bless me on my journey to motherhood once again.
I had never had a Blessingway before any of my previous births, but I knew this event would be an invaluable part of my birth preparation, having attended one last Summer.
It was a beautiful afternoon of singing songs, having my hair braided with flowers, a Tree of Life henna tattoo painted on my belly. I became the center of a red thread web of support and love in this circle of women. Blessings and beads were gifted to me to thread during labor. The event finished with a delicious potluck vegan meal shared by all.
My favorite birth song, which I listened to and sang frequently during my pregnancy was sung at my Blessingway:
“The river she is flowing, rolling and growing
The river she is flowing, down to the sea
Mother carry me, a child I will bear to thee
Mother carry me down to the sea.”
Coming out of this experience I couldn’t help thinking how differently women would approach birth and motherhood if they were similarly blessed and honoured. I felt empowered and ready to give birth and I think the only thing holding me back was my toddler having the flu for the next 10 days…
In the last weeks of my pregnancy most of my reading consisted of positive, empowering birth stories, mainly from “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth” and “Simply Give Birth”. Reading these stories I reminded myself again and again that birth is a normal natural event which can have a profound positive impact on all involved when experienced within the heart of the family.
On January 21st at 2.15am I felt a pop! that woke me and a warm trickle between my legs. My waters had never broken at the beginning of labor before, (usually towards the end, in the birthing pool), so this was a new sensation for me. I went to the bathroom, giggling, hardly believing that this could be it! Sure enough, a steady trickle of clear, sweet smelling amniotic fluid. I sat there for a while, full of gratitude for this first sign.
I read some of the birth stories from Ina May’s book, and one story in particular struck me as so true. The woman in the story said: “Whenever I felt a rush begin, I would look at Don and say, ‘Ready babe?’and he would grin. I would look into his eyes and we would laugh. Everyone laughed with us. I realized it was up to me as the labouring woman to set the tone. When I decided to have a good time, we could all have a good time.”
Pan and I weren’t planning to have anyone outside our family with us during labor and birth. We felt that it would be nice to be just us, the two people who conceived this little one in love, to have the privacy and intimate experience of birthing him/her in love. I have a good sense of my body and my intuition was very heightened towards the end of the pregnancy, so we both felt confident that if we needed a midwife to be there for some reason, I would know and we would call her. But if everything felt right, we definitely wished to birth this baby on our own.
Our children really wanted to be with us as well for the birth, and every night before they went to bed they would beg, “please wake us up if you go into labor, we wanna be there too!…” I never promised anything, because I wanted do whatever felt right when the time came.Now the time was here, gentle rushes were already beginning, and for the time being I was happy to savor what I was experiencing alone, in the dark, in the still of the night.
I woke Pan up around 3am, as the rushes were getting stronger and I wanted to make sure he had enough time to set up and fill the pool. We started kissing and hugging but suddenly I couldn’t linger in his arms anymore… I had to keep moving!
I skipped downstairs to throw in a load of laundry for our baby (I had taken the baby clothes out of the loft the evening before, and they were a bit smelly!), and then settled on the toilet, rocking back and forth humming the tune of my birth song.
“OK”, I told myself, “It’s up to me to set the tone… If I start feeling sorry for myself, no one, least of all myself, is going to enjoy this experience. And if I start feeling scared or trapped, all I’m going to experience is pain.”
So I started saying “Thank you!” when each rush began, to God, to my baby, to my body. And as they grew stronger, I found my voice!
“The river she is flowing, rolling and growing,” I would sing when a rush began.
“The river she is flowing, Down to the sea.”
The word ‘down’ was helpful to sing at the peak as it’s a low note in this song, and it helped me visualize the baby is moving down, and remember to keep my voice on a low, low note.
“Mother carry me, a child I will bear to thee.”
I sang and thought of my own mother, who gave birth without drugs to her 7 children. I thought of her mother, who gave birth to her 5 children during the twilight sleep era and never experienced the joy and exhilaration of giving birth. I felt so grateful to be giving birth within the safety and privacy of my own home, on my terms, and on my own steam!
“Mother carry me down to the sea.”
I felt carried by all my ancestral mothers who knew how and trusted their bodies to give birth perfectly. I shut my eyes and felt myself flowing down to the sea. A timid knock on the bathroom door, and it was Stavro and Maximus, asking excitedly, “Are you having the baby, and why are you singing so loudly in the middle of the night?”
“Yes, I’m having the baby, please leave me alone! Go find Dad,” I answered. I smiled at hearing their excited whispers in the hallway, the sound of their feet rushing downstairs to see what’s going on there.Pan told me later that he loved hearing me sing through my contractions. As time went by, hearing me bellow “DOWN to the sea” made his task of setting up the pool even more urgent!
Then came the time when I really needed to find the sea, so I sprinted downstairs (didn’t want to deal with a rush on the way) to see if the pool was ready. The last rush I had outside the pool was very powerful and I felt my little one moving down. I leaned on the couch whispering “oh baby” over and over until it was.
I got into the pool and noticed how beautifully Pan had set everything up: perfect temperature, my Blessingway candle lit, (no other lights on), and gentle music playing. “Amazing ambiance… thank you my love,” was all I had time to say before another rush engulfed me and I began to sing again.
“The river she is flowing…”
Then I felt baby’s head slip out, no crowning or stinging just a smooth, quick motion of a perfect little head slipping out of my yoni.
“Hey, the head’s out!” I laughed, and Pan stared at me blankly in disbelief for a split second before I spurred him into action, yelling, “Quick! Get the camera! Get the kids! They’re gonna miss it! Hurry!”
Maximus had been curled up on the couch with one of the cats all this time, and he jumped up to call the others. There was a pause of a couple of minutes before the next rush began, but suddenly I wanted Pan next to me right now!
“F*** the camera! Get back here!”
He took a couple pictures of our baby’s head, waiting patiently underwater.
“Mother carry me, a child I will bear to thee.”
I began to sing again and was surprised to hear my children’s voices joining in the song! Stavro, Maximus, Emmanuel, and Mele carrying Johanneka rushed into the room, singing excitedly, just in time to see their little brother slide out of me, and float into my arms.
I hadn’t even felt an urge to push! The baby just propelled himself out of me, just like Michel Odent’s “fetus ejection reflex”.
All was quiet and time stood still as I gazed at my baby. Calmly I unwrapped the cord from around his neck and his body and he looked like he was sleeping. He was white, completely covered in thick vernix. Then suddenly I was laughing, the kids were cheering, Pan was hugging me and I noticed we had another son. “It’s a boy!” I said. Louder cheering from our other boys!
He suckled for a bit, and a few minutes later I felt strong rushes again and knew the placenta was on its way. It slipped out after a few voluntary pushes and Pan put it into a sieve to drain. During the pregnancy we had discussed having a lotus birth, but had decided to wait until our baby was born and just go with the flow. Then I gave my precious babe (and the placenta) to his father who cradled him, as the afterpains began. I wanted to stay in the water for a little longer as they were very intense and being in the warm water felt good. I’ve heard that afterpains are stronger with each child, and this was certainly true for me. They were shockingly painful, even though I had just got myself through labor without a hitch, and was still on a natural high from the birth. I got out of the pool, as I wanted to be with my baby but was too shaky to hold him in the water. I sat on the couch and vomited from the pain. Pan gave me some motherwart tincture, which helped ease the pain enough so I could hold my baby.
After some phone calls to our families, more pictures (the boys were so interested in the placenta I later found a dozen pictures of it from all different angles!), and lots of cuddles, I felt steady enough to venture upstairs again to take a shower, while Mele held our baby boy and “the men” cleared up the pool!
Then, finally, I crawled into our big bed with my precious baby and gradually all the kids joined me for some quiet cuddle time.
It hadn’t occurred to us to check the time of birth, but I got out of the pool around 5am so we figured he must have been born around 4:40am, just about 2 ½ hours from the first sign of labor!
A little later we rinsed, salted, added a few drops of lavender to the placenta and wrapped it loosely in a couple of cloth diapers. It gradually dried over the next two days, the cord becoming almost brittle. We salted it every day and added lavender or tea tree oil. It really was no problem to keep him attached, and the kids got used to making sure the cord didn’t tug. And of course there was the occasional joke about “the old ball and chain”!
Our sweet baby slept a lot while he was still attached to his placenta, was very peaceful and barely opened his eyes during that period. Then, in the evening of the third day, he quietly let go of his placenta and from then on he became more wakeful and alert. I was amazed at what a simple and natural practice lotus birth was for us, and how beautiful his belly button was straight away! No special cleaning of the “stub”, no goopyness of the belly button, no worry of infection that I had dealt with after our other children were born.
My mother arrived on the second day and she gave me the wonderful gift of a babymoon. Mom stayed for two weeks, cooking for us, doing laundry, helping take care of the kids, joining in our unschooling life. Her lap was always available for children to sit on, her voice always keen to read stories and sing songs, her arms always open for extra cuddles for little people whose own mother was busy nurturing a newborn. I will always be grateful for those two weeks my mother gifted me!
We named him according to tradition on the eighth day: Alexander Constantine. It’s a big name he’ll gradually grow into I guess!
When I think about the birth story of our sixth child, my heart brims with happiness and gratitude. This truly was the perfect birth experience for me and my whole family feels the wonder of it.
“Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth”, Ina May Gaskin
“Simply Give Birth”, Heather Cushman-Dowdee
“Peaceful Pregnancy”, Veronika and Paul Robinson
“Blessingway Songs”, Copperwoman