March 8, 2012
Aurora Midwives

Théo’s Delivery: My Redeeming Birth story

by: Vanessa Bissonnette

Our baby is one-month old today; efforts to apply some discipline to writing the story of his birth while the details run fresh in mind were kyboshed. The blurring of time and detail inevitably results from caring for a newborn.  I’ll do my best.

I am the mother of two children: Lilianne born six years ago and Théo born mere weeks ago. For both expected arrivals, my husband and I were aiming for a natural birth.  I prepared with carefully chosen prenatal classes, a modified diet topped with the requisite high quality supplements, kiegals and yoga, meditation, visualization and birth-plan crafting … I was training for the obstetric endurance event(s) to come with all the might and focus of an athlete – to borrow from the apt analogy of our “coaches” during both pregnancies (Rhonda and Sue, who now run Healthy Birth Choices).   The similarities between the birth experiences that brought our children into the world – end here.  Our daughter arrived twelve days late, in hospital, according to obstetric care protocol – by “gentle” induction procedure followed by an artificially augmented labor that ended with a forceps extraction in an operating room dual-prepped for a possible C-section.  Our son arrived in a wholly different manner; our bodies synched naturally three days past his anticipated due-date, at home, where a short labor delivered him gently into a tub of water.

What was the hinging difference?  I’ve bent my mind to this question often … In 2006, Alberta did not yet support alternative primary care for women in the pre-natal, birthing and post-natal phases of pregnancy.  Blessedly, things have changed and in 2011, Mike and I opted for a competent midwifery clinic to support us throughout the process.  While the care provided by my GP/OB-GYN Doctor at the time, was professional, sensitive and as devoted as the system would allow; it does not compare to the personalized attention and sense of having someone in your corner at every turn which we gained through the care of Aurora Midwives.

In 2011, I also had all the benefit of hindsight, experience and the added willfulness that comes from knowing this was my last kick-at-the-can.  We were better able to quiet the nagging argument for added safety that typically informs the decision to birth in hospital.  And, I was fueled by something deeper, more guttural – more primitive; I just wanted to let my body do what it must, to trust in its innate ability, to tap into a buried feminine mystique and experience birthing with all my senses and all my strength … and come out empowered on the other side. A jilted memory of my first birth experience fueled a skepticism that saw me prepare much differently this time.  The amassed reference tomes used in 2006 that scientifically detailed gestational development, labor and modern-day obstetrical practices were replaced.   My bedside now housed the likes of Birth Matters:  A Midwife’s Manifesto by renowned Ina May with foreword by Ani DeFranco [an eye-opening good read] or Stand and Deliver: And other Briliant Ways to Give Birth by tongue-in-cheek journalist Emma Mahony [an inspiring collection of actual birth stories] or Your Best Birth: Know all your Options, Discover the Natural Choices and Take Back the Birth Experience by talk-show host Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein.

I was prepared, composed, inspired and hopeful.  And on a mission – I aimed to have a redeeming birthing experience for me, for my baby, for my couple and for my mother – who witnessed the chaos of Lilianne’s birth through a veil of helpless tears. So, well rested and excitedly anticipating the event after three weeks off work, surrounded by family – mom close at hand, my contractions started in the wee hours of Thursday.  In my PJs, head on pillow, the midnight hour brought a new sensation of gentle waves of pain deep within my core. Could this be it?!  My body and baby had naturally kicked things into gear at 20 minute intervals.  I needed to work through the contractions in the dark; the serene cover of night (once my snoring husband was kicked out of the room) afforded the best space for emotionally coming to grips with what was finally happening.  Also, the silence and seclusion allowed me to figure-out and practice what worked best for me – in terms of coping with pain.

At 5:30AM, the contractions were coming in longer waves at about 7 minute intervals.  Mike came into the bedroom to assist me with an intense few, then called into work to say that he wasn’t coming in because his wife was in labor.  Hearing the information “out there”, in such definite terms felt odd to my ears – there was no turning back now, this was it – “today, I was having a baby”.   The pronouncement gave me such a rush!  At that precise moment of awareness, my daughter floated into the room; her child’s intuition attuned to the energy shift in the house on that early morning.  I was able to explain to my daughter what was happening.  After viewing countless births on video, DVD and YouTube, my little girl was the poised mini doula-in-training.  In the gentle light of dawn, cocooned in last nights warm duvet, my six-year-old stroked my hair and held my hand in silence, as I breathed though two contractions.

As Lilianne danced away to the kitchen to the rhythm of her regular pre-school routine;  I timed precisely 7-minutes to get out of bed and into the bathroom, undress and enter the shower for the next onslaught.  There I stayed, stretching, squatting, kneeling, breathing, visualizing and … smiling for a good chunk of time, thanking Mike inwardly for our decision to go for tankless water heating system!

“THE” tub had been blown-up weeks prior and, stood in the middle of our front living room, a lime-green inflatable promise of salvation.  I dressed in the carefully thought out buttoned-down nightshirt I’d chosen for laboring.  I’ll cop to being capricious when I’m uncomfortable; no chaffing or binding, too short or too long, distractedly patterned or overly ornate clothing would be tolerated skin-side.  I took position on our plush, much loved if scarcely used couch in our “formal” living room; leaning, sitting, side lying or squatting while my contractions sped along to a fast 5-minutes apart.  Then dad showed-up at the top of the basement stairs, surprised to see the enterprise already well under way at this early morning hour.  I’ll amusingly recall his wide-eyed look of panic and the immediate volte-face that followed as he called out “I’ll get your mother” before disappearing back down the stairs.  Mom sprinted upstairs, excitedly ringing her hands as she asked Mike “where do you need me?” with a beaming smile.

That was the last time my attention was equally engaged outward.  I only have fleeting images of what followed: the tub being filled, the midwives being called, dad leaving with the dog.  I remember dance-walking to/from the bathroom with Mike.  I remember trying to eat the high fiber toast mom prepared for me, followed by vomiting it down to bile.  I remember the labor-aid drink lovingly concocted by mom, according to direction – the icy drink reminiscent of a virgin margarita on a sugar high also would not sit nice.  The Emergence-C flavored energy drink, carefully sampled previously for an optimum flavoring match, also would not sit nice.  My body would only allow water – little sips of rudimentary, plain, basic water.  Let it be written that I remain thankful for the modern, technologically savvy bendy-straw.

The midwife team arrived when I was decidedly moaning.  A busy unpacking, consulting and setting-up ensued which frazzled me and momentarily threw me off my groove – leaving me feeling panicked for the first time.  Then I remembered hearing in pre-natal class that changes to a laboring woman’s environment often result I setbacks.  So, I gazed upon my artsy Vision Board and the image of my version of an “oxytocin flame” (another apt Sue analogy) – its fiery flower dancing before my eyes.  I refocused my attention within and reminded myself that this panic was fleeting and perfectly normal – a simple little blip. And just like that, it passed.

I started to chant a nonsensical refrain with each contraction “Flower Bloom and Blow” - it references images chosen for my Vision Board:  a delicately petaled orchid to represent all that is Ina May’s “Spyncter Law” and a ripe dandelion loosing its seed to the wind to represent the notion of “abandon”.  Flower Blook and Blow when repeated within a slow exhalation actually relaxes the mouth, which magically relaxes the cervix and vagina.  Try it – shaping the lips around the phonetic letters “F” and “B” stretched-out with breath tickles the lips and really does, relax.

I became oblivious to the hub-bub of Mike and mom dumping pot after pot of boiling water into the tub or midwives on the phone managing chaos from a distance (apparently March’s full moon was particularly fruitful!).  I acquiesced to the only internal examination between two strong contractions and almost broke-up in elated song when I heard Sarah (our primary midwife) say “Oh my!  You’re fully dilated with a huge sack of water bulging, a couple more contractions and we’re going to have a baby”.  And she tapped my knee, as one would rally a teammate on the soccer field; I was completely stoked. In my mind, I had hours of pain management before me yet and I was gearing for the defeating words “not-yet” or “almost there”.  It was manna from heaven to hear that the totally manageable pain I’d weathered so far had got me there – to “baby coming soon”.

In the tub I went, disrobed automatically and slipped into the water. Gripping the sturdy plastic handle in one hand and burying my face into my husband’s bare forearm while clenching his hand in what can only be described as a “pretzel hold”.  My lower body floated in the deep water – naturally, into a position that felt comfortable.  Then I felt IT – for the first time ever – the delicious “urge to push”.  I’d craved that sensation so viscerally in 2006, when every attendant asked the question expectantly “Do you have the urge?” – only to witness their deflated expression clouding to worry when I answered “I don’t know”,  in confused frustration.   Well, now there was no denying the massive pressure deep within my core, pushing against my bowels causing a sensation that I could only qualify like “OMG – my bum is going to explode any second!!!”   I felt IT and IT made me ecstatically happy if agonizing.  Assisted by the expert coaching of my midwife, I pushed through maybe six contractions, felt the stabbing pang of something ripping when Théo’s head finally cleared  (it was the only time I screamed).  I heard Mike giggle in the blissful in-between time when there was no pain and full consciousness.  During those prolonged seconds of rest, I told mom she could take pictures – I know our family’s “Kid Kodak” was there, smiling through tears, I couldn’t see her but I could sense her.  Some choice memento shots were taken between pushes and Théo’s body seemed to plummet down the birth canal – whoosh! He was on my chest and I was weightless, wrapped in bliss and an old towel.

My son turning a lovely pink in seconds before all our transfixed eyes; no tears, no screams, a simple quizzical look up and gentle nestling into my chest while he worked his mouth around the new world sensations of open-air.  We lingered here, laughing and cooing in unrushed enjoyment of that amazing and intimate moment.

Yes, I was injured badly again. Old forceps inflicted wounds reopened and new ones caused by the limitations of my skin and our 9lbs plus baby boy.  But the mending has been purely physical this time; everything about Théo’s birth has been restorative.  I am convinced that every woman can birth naturally. I’ve come to understand that – for me, the formula was simple:

  • one-third preparation – informing ourselves, gathering the appropriate supports, setting-up optimal environment, taking the time to examine my coping skills and understanding my needs/wants etc.
  • one-third will – committing to the aim of a natural birth, trusting nature, believing in the body’s abilities, concentrating, applying a gentle inner-voice throughout etc.
  • one-third luck – while I believe you can do much to aid (or hinder) nature, ultimately birth is a mysterious alchemy of baby and body,  at the mercy of who-what-when-where surrounding the event.

We were extremely fortunate but we were prepared and I became the “athlete” I’ve always known exists deep within.  Like the gold medal worn around the Olympian’s neck, in proud symbol of an accomplishment; my crowning moment is savored every time I cross my baby’s gaze.