Hospital Trauma and Healing at Home: A Story of Two Births (Part II)

Pregnancy and/or Parenting Through Adoption/Infertility/Loss blogger Sarah Robertson-Barnes shared the story of her first birth yesterday – a hospital birth which left her feeling guilty, dehumanized, and depressed and which she chronicled on her blog, Little Chicken Nuggets. Today, she shares the victorious, redemptive experience of her second birth, midwife-attended and completed at home.

You can read the first part of her story here.

“I hardly know where to begin.

So, we will begin at the end – with a beginning.

I was “due” on February 9 – a date that I have always questioned as there was no possible way to approximate the date of conception (years of anovulation, PCOS, infertility diagnosis, breastfeeding) and the EDD was made from one dating ultrasound. Other measurements along the way (NT scan, anatomy scan, fundal height, etc.) seemed to jive with this date so I went with it. For some reason, however, I had an inkling that I voiced to several people that I would not be making it out of Week 38. MJB was born at 38w2d.

For a few days leading up to it I had been having pretty strong Braxton Hicks contractions in the evening and throughout the night. I mentioned it to one of my midwives at my appointment on the Thursday before and she said that sometimes with second babies, “…your uterus can get very irritable.” INDEED, I thought. Friday and Saturday night I woke up every hour or so feeling very uncomfortable. On Sunday night/early Monday morning I would wake up and think “I REALLY need to pee,” but the pressure was not relieved. I would have to wait out the sensation and it would disappear. Hmmmmmmm.

After 3 of these in two hours, I wake BJB up at 5:30 am and say, “Babe, I think something is maybe happening.” I don’t recall his response but it was probably some sort of sleepy acknowledgement/denial. We decide to get up before HGB, only to look outside and see a blizzard. PERFECT.

By the time BJB gets out of the shower I am starting to feel pretty excited that “something is happening” and ask if it is possible to please work from home? I then text my friend who is going to look after HGB for us to put her on alert. Throughout the morning I am having pretty mild sensations, but they are also coming pretty regularly every 20 minutes or so. Then every 15, then every 30, and I start to feel disappointed that maybe it is nothing. I am feeling guilty that BJB has taken the day off and my friend is preparing to leave work early for no reason. Both of whom are basically like, “Dude. It’s FINE! No worries. Also, you are obviously going to have a baby today.”

BJB decides to run out with HGB before lunch and pick up a few things that seem monumentally important to me at the time and now I forget what they were. Apple juice? Loonies for laundry? Doesn’t matter. He texts me to ask if I want poutine from the chip truck like he has never met me before in my life. Obviously I say yes. If you are going to puke your guts out during transition, I recommend that your last meal be something beige and fatty versus say, spicy pad thai. Learn from my experience!

The next few hours are spent knitting on the couch, watching Downton Abbey, and jumping up every ten minutes or so to walk around for 30-60 seconds. The waves were becoming a little more intense, but nothing that a little pacing and toning (sounding “oooooooh” and “aaaaaaaah” deeply) can’t handle. Around 2:00 pm I move to sitting on the ball. BJB gets a phone call from a friend we seem to have kept missing for the last year who suddenly wonders why BJB is at home. “Oh, SRB is in labour” BJB casually tells him. So, I talk to our friend for approximately eight minutes before needing to pass him back to BJB. At this point I am thinking, “SRB, you are not talking so well through these anymore. This is happening.” And this incredible feeling of excitement and happiness washes over me. I make a super casual call to my main midwife and leave a message that I am in early labour and will call her back later.

Our next call is to our friend SK to please come and pick up HGB. She comes right away. Leading up to the birth, I was extremely reluctant to ship our firstborn son off for the night, only to come home and find Usurper Baby in mum’s arms. But when it came down to it, I knew I needed him to be safely away so that I could concentrate on his brother, and his dad could concentrate on me. And I knew he would have fun with Auntie SK.

At this point, I decide that I want to get into the bathtub. This was the only thing that brought me any relief during my runaway train-style labour with HGB. Up until now, I have been doing pretty well with walking and toning through the waves, and focusing on my “Peace” cue from my Hypnobabies preparation. While in the tub, I try my best to do the “finger drop” and the “eyes open” stuff, but can’t seem to focus on it. Instead, I find myself just closing my eyes and visualizing that each wave is in fact, just that – a wave. I am confident that I can climb to the top, and then gently roll back down.

My “special place” is a beach I used to visit frequently when I lived in Nova Scotia, so this really works for me. I know how this sounds, believe me. But I feel capable and strong, safe and supported. I really do the “…when each of my powerful pressure waves ends I feel happy, and smile” thing. For real. BJB says, “You are doing an amazing job of keeping your face relaxed” and this makes me feel so good.

The bathtub is suddenly not where I want to be, so I get out and lean on the bathroom counter for a while. My bag of waters STILL has not broken, so I am expecting this to happen at any second. (They broke it “for me” with HGB, so I have no frame of reference about what this would be like.) BJB brings me the gown I wore when HGB was born, and we stay in the bathroom for a little while. I am not sure how long because we do not own a clock (seriously), and one of my birth preferences is to be blissfully ignorant of the time.

I am generally feeling the sensations in my back, hips, and the fronts of my thighs, so BJB is instructed as to where to apply counter-pressure with each wave. My back needs a break though, so I go back to the living room to kneel and lean on my exercise ball for support. We are no longer tracking the frequency or length of the waves any longer as there simply isn’t time. I announce, with absolute certainty, that it is time to page the midwife.

We call our main midwife, Natalie, around 6:00ish. She stays on the phone with me for about a half hour, talking to both of us and listening to me have contractions. At the end of the third one she says, “Okay, we’re getting in the car and coming over! We’re having a BABY!!!!!” I stay exactly where I am until they arrive about an hour later. At some point BJB puts on the playlist we made (all Ravi Shankar/new age/yoga type stuff… I don’t know why) and I tolerate that for about six minutes. BJB also just casually makes and eats enchiladas during this portion of the evening, and is nearly crucified for his breath in my face. ANYWAY. The three midwives show up (I’ll explain why there are three in another post) but I barely notice.

Natalie comes over and gives me a big hug and after some words of excitement and encouragement, asks to take my vitals and listen to the baby. She says everything looks great, but would it be okay to check me? I agree and insist on going to my bed for this for some reason. I think I am afraid my water will break all over HGB’s play mat or something. I forget.
She warns me that the check will be “uncomfortable” and I’m like, “Dude. I doubt I will notice.” She says I am about 9-10 cm!

I look at BJB and he looks so surprised, but also so proud of me. I’ll never forget that. He gets very excited and startes running around to help the midwives set up all their gear. This literally includes boiling water and getting towels ready. We had managed to make up the bed earlier in the afternoon, but hadn’t cleared off the dresser yet. He gets to work doing this and sets the plastic pail down for a second on top of the dresser. Meanwhile, I have gotten up to pace again and decide that I need to vomit. RIGHT NOW. Into the pail! And then eleven or so more times! Much better. Natalie exclaimes surprise that my water didn’t break as that was very impressive heaving indeed. I start laughing, and then promptly crying, shivering and chattering my teeth. Why, HELLO TRANSITION!

Somehow I end up standing on BJB’s side of the bed, leaning on the ball. No idea how the ball got in the room. My contractions are now VERY intense, and with each one Natalie is doing this awesome hip squeeze maneuver while BJB crouches down and rubs my legs or back. My legs are starting to feel like lead, but I also feel “stuck” and can’t seem to move. I am getting the urge to start sinking my knees with each pressure wave, but also feel SO TIRED. I start BAWLING and enter the “I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE!” phase. Natalie gives me a big hug and reassures me that it is time to push my baby out now and I will be holding him soon. I am sobbing that I need to lie down but, “…you aren’tsupposed to  lie down to push your baby out!” Natalie reminds me that I can do whatever my body is telling me to do and helps me lie down on my side. She asks to check me again, and says that she can see the baby but my bag of waters is bulging.

I am dumbfounded that it still hasn’t broken yet. Natalie says that she knows I don’t want an AROM, but at this stage, it is very likely that it will help the baby “…slide right out” and may help relieve the pressure I am feeling. I agree, and again she warns me that it will be uncomfortable. It feels like a bucket of water has been thrown on me, and then… I fall asleep.

I think I slept for maybe five minutes? I remember telling Natalie that I just need to rest for a few minutes, and she was stroking my hair and saying “Whenever you’re ready.” And then, I was READY. I do not remember very much of this part, but I think it only lasted 15 minutes or so.

I close my eyes, grab the bed frame with one hand and BJB with the other. I can only describe it as riding the biggest rollercoaster in the park with your eyes closed – knowing that the ride is terrifying and exhilarating, and also that you are very safe and will pull back into the loading area very soon. The few things I do remember are thinking my sounds are getting very high, and I need to go lower. That I need to move into the sensation, not try to crawl away from it. That everything is very quiet. Then I remember saying, “IT BURNS!” and feeling a warm cloth. After about 30 seconds I can hear BJB saying, “SRB! Reach down! Pull him out!” and I grasp our baby’s shoulders and lift him out onto my chest. He cries right away and starts rooting for a breast, latching like a pro. I’ve never seen BJB’s face look quite like it did in that moment.

Our sweet boy is born.

newborn mama

For the next hour I hold him on my chest while all the after birth things are happening. We have opted to collect cord blood for both of our children, so the cord needs to be clamped immediately rather than allowing pulsation to stop. Robynn (the senior midwife) helps Natalie learn how to do the collection, and then BJB jumps in to cut the cord. He did not get to do this with HGB, a source of disappointment for both us. It is very important to me that BJB do this as a symbol of our son becoming his own person, separate from me. In the time those procedures take, I have managed to birth my placenta with no active management at all. I become hyper-focused on the realization that I have not yet labelled a freezer bag for it, but Natalie assures us that it is no big deal. She shows me the organ as she checks it, using an amazing “Tree of Life” analogy as she goes. Our plan is to plant MJB’s placenta under a seedling evergreen that my father potted for us when HGB was born in the backyard of our new home. But for now, it sits in a Zipl.oc bag next to my ice cube trays.

mama cuddles

MJB is weighed in a cloth bag hung from a fish scale. Rashmi (the baby’s midwife) looks him over, does the usual newborn tests and whatnot, and then gives him to BJB to hold. During this time I am checked (no tears!) and helped into bathroom to get cleaned up and into ye olde mesh panties. When I return to our bedroom all the blue pads, equipment, and plastic sheeting has been cleared away, and our bed is all ready for us to crawl into. We chat with the midwives for a few minutes, and they hug us both before essentially tucking us in and bidding us adieu. They leave shortly before midnight, and we lie down with our new son between us.

papa cuddles

I wish I had the words to capture the power of this experience. It has touched every fibre of my being, every corner of my heart. I remarked to a dear friend a few days later that I felt like I had been hit by a truck, but also like I could pick that truck up and throw it. In this one night, so much of the weight of my first birth, my infertility, my pregnancy loss, my anger and sadness… it just became so light and drifted away. For me, this experience has been a tremendous healing force beyond my hopes or imagination. Our son was born on the very spot he was made, surrounded by love. Through this birth, I have be re-born as a more whole version of myself. I trust my body. I trust my partner. I trust myself. I am happy. We are so grateful for this perfect day.”


  • Leah

    I cried reading both of your birth stories. I had similar feelings of guilt and “failure” in the weeks postpartum.
    Reading your home birth story just stirs my heart. I am filled with joy for you. I am filled with appreciation about your honesty related to the struggle, but also filled with awe and pride because of your strength. Your support team made me cry happy tears with fond memories… I had a midwife group within the hospital and they were AMAZING.
    I cry happy tears of relief because your story is so redemptive and beautiful and honest. Thank you so much for sharing!!

  • Cassie

    Beautiful. So happy for you and your perfect day! My first birthing experience was a lot like your first, so I am of course hoping my second is like a lot like your second. 🙂 Congratulations and thank you for sharing!

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