In my first pregnancy with my daughter, I did a lot of research to prepare for labour and birth. I would spend my evenings reading positive stories of the birthing process, especially home births, as well as little encouragements and mantras (a favourite I found was an acronym for labour pain — Purposeful, Anticipated, Intermittent, Normal - so wonderful to focus on!). Reading all those stories were probably the biggest reason I felt excited and confident for my labour - and wonderfully, my daughter Eden was born after a steady, uneventful labour in our home. While I wanted to share her birth story, I never got around to it (maybe I still will!), so instead I am writing out Rowan’s while it is still fresh :)
My labour with Rowan started on a cold Friday morning while I was preparing to take my daughter to a play date with her cousins. I lost a bit of mucus which I took as a sign that labour would start in the next few days, so I decided to try and have a ‘normal’ day and go out and run errands. By the afternoon I started feeling some mild cramps, but nothing consistent. My husband was biking home from work and I was making dinner when I realized that the cramps were starting to have a pattern. When I labored with Eden I only had back pain, so this was different for me and it sort of threw me off. The contractions continued - I finally decided to accept and identify them as contractions instead of ‘weird cramps that might go away’ - and by the time my husband was able to put my daughter to bed, I was labouring on the exercise ball in our bedroom, starting to hone in and focus on my body. We realized that labour was going to happen that night, so we called our doula and the Midwives. Our doula is one of the most wonderful, gentle, generous, and encouraging souls you could ever meet - and she happened to be out of town that particular weekend. Despite her annual family trip, after we gave her an update on my labour, she jumped on the last ferry and made her way over to us that evening! In the meantime, my husband and I had been working on setting up our birth tub ( a few minor frustrations there…) but by 10pm we had our doula, the midwife, and the birth tub all ready to support me through the intensifying contractions.
It’s strange to look back on that time - I was much more alert than my previous birth, and things were progressing much more quickly (as they do with second babies). I was feeling a bit shaky and tired, but incredibly grateful to be in the comfort of my own home, surrounded by the people that made me feel safe and strong. Many things didn’t go as planned - my daughter was still at home when we planned for her to go to my mom’s house, the birth tub didn’t set up easily (at one point we were debating filling it via buckets), our doula wasn’t in town, the contractions were different and more intense than my previous birth - and yet it all felt like it came together as it should. My husband said it’s because we chose to embrace it; that while we prepared and hoped for certain things, we also surrendered to the process.
As for pain management (speaking of surrendering to the process…), my main coping mechanism seemed to develop naturally - I would tap out a rhythm with each contraction, the tapping getting more intense as the contraction swelled in intensity. I’m not a ‘loud’ labourer apparently, but I think it was because all my energy was focused on that tapping sound! I also found that I truly had a choice to continue the labour’s progression - everytime I lied down, the contractions slowed. Almost immediately after standing, a contraction would come. I really wanted to work with my body and also, I really wanted to be done being pregnant, so I didn’t lie down very often. The majority of my labour was spent standing and swaying and tapping, with counter-pressure on my back thanks to my support team.
Active labour started pretty quickly as a result - sometime after midnight I threw up and we decided it was time to labour in the tub. I secretly hoped it would slow things down, but baby was determined to come out! The contractions remained intense, and after an hour I started to feel like pushing.
This stage of labour is so distinct in my memory - again, with Eden, it was different because I remember feeling some relief that I could use the power of the contraction to push. With Rowan, I was aware of everything. I could feel him descend and engage in my pelvis, and the pressure was so strong that I could barely distinguish each contraction. As a result, my pushing was mostly guided by my own choice (and I was quite ready to be done and meet my baby, so pushing was maximized!), and a midwife had to remind me to ‘slow down, breathe, and work with your body’. I had only pushed for about 10 minutes when I was able to feel the top of his head while he was crowning. I distinctly remember reaching down and thinking the cord was wrapped around him because his head was so soft and squishy. Soon after that his head was out, and then one more push brought out his body - and on December 1st at 1:51am I lifted my baby boy out of the water and into my arms.
How magical to hold a crying, warm bundle of baby and know that the hard work of labour is finished. Its incredibly empowering and overwhelming, and I’m still processing the entirety of the journey. My hope in sharing Rowan’s birth story is that it might encourage anyone who is pregnant to trust her body and trust the process. I think sharing birth stories can have a powerful impact on the stigma that birth is a scary, painful, medically-managed event. Birth is full of unknowns, and birth is a marathon, and birth can certainly require medical intervention - but at its very core, birth is something our bodies were made for and can be a beautiful, powerful experience.