Liam's birth: from homebirth to cesarean

Birth is what many women say it is: a life-changing experience, a journey beyond all expectations… As an important part of a women’s life, it truly reveals what we are capable of, our inner strengths, our most hidden fears and our capacity for resilience. Liam’s journey from my womb to our outside world was a powerful experience for both of us: it took us through moment of grace and moments of fear. Today, as we gaze into each other’s eyes, we find solace and peace and I truly understand what moms had told me about falling so totally in love with one’s baby. As an ethologist, I had observed animals defend their young fiercely and now I can relate to all those mammals and their maternal instincts. Much of becoming a mother has to do with embracing one’s inner animal.

So many of the birth stories we hear are about fear and pain. Although labour and birth are very intense, I feel we should tell their stories as tales of empowerment and discovery of inner strength. I wanted to share my story because it took me through many things, but despite the hardships, I don’t consider it a “horror” story. I consider it as an experience I needed to live to better understand and respect myself.

I had the joy of having a wonderful pregnancy, no morning sickness and a sense of being energized by the transformations within me. I trusted my body to know what had to be done and it did wonderfully throughout the nine months. I only had to endure a bit of swelling in my feet and legs at the very end, probably due to the unholy heat in Vancouver… My husband and I had planned a homebirth, a waterbirth. I wanted to bring this new soul into our world in a gentle and intimate manner. I had done much reading, from Michel Odent’s work on respectful and gentle birthing to Ina May Gaskin’s famous Spiritual Midwifery. I had chosen a group of midwives for my care and a wonderful doula to be our guides in this essential moment. I watched many movies of gentle home births, including Orgasmic Birth and felt compelled. I felt so confident I would give birth at home that I didn’t even pack an “emergency” hospital bag. Instead, I stocked up all the items needed for the home birth, spending countless hours on the Mama Goddess site to pick out what I needed. I had read all the research and trusted that a home birth would mean less intervention and a beautiful experience for both me and the baby. In retrospect, I focused a lot on the “techniques” of giving birth and less on empowering myself and preparing myself to fight back if necessary. Little did I know that my birth would turn out very different from what I had dreamt of, expected and prepared…

Contractions, or “rushes” as I prefer to call them, started slowly on a Monday. I continued with my day to day routines, even finding time to take a hike in Lynn Canyon with my family. On Wednesday night, I started feeling things picking up and by 2:30 in the morning, I knew the real thing was starting. My husband and I managed to grab a few hours of sleep before calling my midwife and my doula around 6:30. By then, I had entered a whole new realm. Before, I thought I would have the time and energy to prepare everything for the birth, set out the supplies and cleanse the room with a sage smudge. How wrong I was… Instead, I found myself focused entirely on what was happening inside of me, leaving my husband and my mom to run around the house looking for all the supplies.

As the rushes became stronger, my mind shifted to an altered state. I’m not sure whether it was my hypno-birthing preparation, or the yoga breathing but I was solely focused on what was happening within my body, embracing each rush as it came and giving in to it. I used chairs and the toilet a lot! (Not very glamorous but very effective!) Sitting backwards and leaning on the back of the chair and the toilet helped a lot with dealing with the strong energy going through my whole body. I switched to the shower at some point and found myself on all fours, letting the warm water bring warmth and relaxation. By then both my doula, the wonderful Kim and Kelly, my extraordinary midwife, had arrived. They let me work through the rushes without intervening, which was wonderful. I was naked and felt like an animal, reconnecting with my wild side.

My mom and my husband set up the birthing pool and managed to provide the midwife with all the supplies we had prepared beforehand. Soft music was playing: orca sounds and relaxing cello and harp. I made it to the pool and from there on I was definitely in another world. I did not notice anything that was happening around me. Being in the birthing pool was wonderful; I totally relaxed into the moment and let my body do its hard work. I cannot say the process was painful, it felt more like an intense workout. My support team provided a relaxed and calm environment and we let the events slowly unfold. My husband was very close to me and helped me through each of my contractions. We walked together, rocked together, he spent many hours wiping my brow with a cold washcloth or adding warm water to the pool. I am grateful to have such a wonderful man as my partner and as my son’s dad… I managed to dilate almost fully and everything felt just right, this was the most natural process I had ever experienced. Fleeting thoughts passed through my mind as I worried for my dad and sister, stuck in their room and waiting for the baby to be born, no one had had breakfast or lunch and I felt a bit bad for them. At the same time, as I toiled through birth, I would sometimes stop and think “will I be able to push?” before diving right back in.

At some point in the afternoon, Kelly asked me to get up in the pool to monitor Liam’s heartbeat, as she had been doing regularly since the early hours of the morning. She could not pick up anything and asked me to get out of the pool and back on my bed so she could assess both of us better. A sense of panic started to reach my brain. Was my little one in danger? Things went very fast then. Kelly got me on oxygen to help the baby, his heartbeat had slowed down drastically and she was worried the cord might have gotten pinched at some point. Following the emergency procedure, she called the hospital to keep them informed and tell them to be prepared for us just in case and called the ambulance. I fell out of my hypnotic state and the internal exams proved to be quite painful then. Panic washed on all of us. My dad became quite restless waiting for the ambulance… I was grateful to hear that Liam’s heartbeat was going back up slowly but very disappointed to hear Kelly tell me that we still had to go to the hospital as a precautionary measure to monitor his heart more closely. I was also a bit feverish and she was worried I was getting dehydrated. I barely had time to put on a robe and we were off in the paramedics’ truck. I have to say the paramedics were very gentle and kind and did not strap me down. Kelly rode in the ambulance with me while my husband, my doula and my mom rushed to gather some essentials for the hospital and followed us.

We reached the hospital. I was assessed once more and a monitoring device was attached to my belly. By then, the panic and probably the disappointment of having left the comfort of my home led my labour to slow down a fair bit. I was given an IV to keep me hydrated. I just hated being strapped to all the electronics and having to wear one of those horrible hospital gowns… I hated all the invasive exams I had to go through. I truly felt like my power to give birth was taken away from me…

It was time for me to push Liam out now and we both set out to do just that. I wasn’t yet fully dilated but was instructed to start pushing. I did not feel right, my body wasn’t ready, nor was I. The OB-GYN and my midwife suggested putting me on Pitocin to get my labour going again and help me push more efficiently. I did not want the Pitocin. I should have fought against it, but gave in. The Pitocin made the rushes more intense and also more painful. By then I started understanding why so many women want the epidural… I resisted asking for any pain relief. I wanted this birth to be as natural as possible, despite the hospital setting, the IV and the Pitocin. I pushed for close to three hours. We tried different positions. I have to say the hospital bed did not help! It seems like the Pitocin made the rushes erratic and too intense to deal with. I finally managed to ask to be unhooked from the monitoring and allowed to move about. Once more, my most efficient pushing happened on the toilet, in a position that was not supine. I managed to get Liam down a fair bit but somehow in the process he got stuck. Was my pelvis too narrow for him? By then I was getting very tired from the effort and from the pain. Another OB-GYN came to assess me and started talking about the different options, including forceps, with all the risks implied for both Liam and me. I knew for sure I did not want the forceps. I was close to crying then and very close to hitting people! The OB-GYN suggested the possibility of the C-section. I started feeling very helpless and very inadequate. Why wasn’t I able to push this baby out when we both had such a nice labour at home? Did Liam feel how much I resented being in the hospital? The OB-GYN was kind enough to explain how the procedure would go and the risks and benefits entailed. Liam was probably getting tired and I was getting very exhausted from the long hours of pushing. It was probably safer for both of us to go with the C-section. They were worried Liam would go into fetal distress. A strong contraction came in at that moment and I started yelling at the medical team to go ahead and get it over with. I am grateful to all of them for remaining very calm and suggesting I wait for the contraction to be over to discuss it before rushing to any decision. My husband, my mom and I were allowed a few minutes to discuss it. By then I felt helpless and very disappointed with myself. Was I not strong enough to give birth to this little one? My doula attempted to tell me that I was allowed to get mad, probably implying that I should get mad, reclaim my power and give birth the way I felt like. My mom, midwife and husband all reassured me that I had done my very best and that it would be safer for both of us to go with the surgery. I gave in, once more. I let my power be taken away from me.

The medical team told me to stop pushing, which was very hard with the contractions still coming in very strong and my brain having switched back to full awareness of the pain. If I could have hit someone I would have! Stop pushing? What a joke! I asked for the laughing gas. The Nitrous Oxide did not make me laugh but made me sleepy enough for me to recover a bit from the pain and the exhaustion. I think my brain just decided to switch me off to avoid the emotions running too high… I had to wait close to an hour for the OR to be available and for the anesthesiologist to come and prep me for the surgery. He was also very kind to explain everything and to crack a few jokes to keep my spirits up. I was strapped down on the table, hooked up to another set of devices and given a spinal anesthesia. The anesthesiologist added a bit of morphine to send me to another world. I was still very much awake and aware. Finally, they let my husband in and proceeded with the surgery. Within minutes Liam was out of my belly and handed over to my husband, crying his lungs out. My husband was able to come and show me my little one very quickly while I was being stitched up. I felt like crying my eyes out: my little one was so perfect and beautiful! He was born in his water bag, as my water never broke. Somehow, that made me feel better. He was cushioned throughout the process and born in water, protected. I could not touch him,  but I drank him up with my eyes, amazed at his scrunched little face, at all his perfect features, snuggly covered in a blanket.

After I was wheeled out to the recovery room and my baby handed to me for some skin to skin contact and his first breastfeeding. It was very emotional for both of us. We had been robbed of our first moments together and could not take our gaze off each other. I spent most of that first night in the hospital holding Liam very close to me.

I was lucky to recover very quickly from the surgery. Within the next day I could get up and walk around my room and was able to return home within 3 days. Breastfeeding was a long and difficult battle for both of us but we made it. I do not regret hanging in there to give him that very special present.

I still go through ups and downs, regretting some decisions and regretting I did not stand up for myself and fight back the hospital system. I did not need to be confined to that bed; I most certainly did not need to be hooked on the monitor for so long, I did not need to have so many invasive exams. My body was working fine without the Pitocin and I should have insisted my wishes to be respected. Nevertheless, my baby is healthy and beautiful; I feel so much joy and love when I look at him. My husband promised us that he would set up the birthing pool again and put both of us in it, to grieve the missing moments of this birth.

I do hope that if we have other children, I will be able to have a natural birth, hopefully in a home setting again. I do not regret for one moment having attempted a home birth, I really saw the difference between those very intimate, special moments laboring at home and the panic and pain I felt at the hospital. Don’t get me wrong, hospital births are usually fine when well prepared and interventions DO save lives every day. I just believe they are sometimes and often unnecessary and not used to the best interest of the mama and the baby. Birth is naturally slow, it does not obey rules of on-the-clock medical teams, it goes at its own pace. I just wish women were allowed to follow that pace, different for each one of them, and be respected if it sometimes takes a bit longer…

I am grateful though for the very professional attitude of my midwife and for the unbelievable support provided by my doula, my husband and my mom. I don’t think I would have made it so far without them.

Below is the list of things I would have done differently in retrospect. I don’t want to linger on regrets but wish to use these as teachings for my next birth:
  • I would have spent more time learning about possible interventions and preparing myself.
  • I would have prepared an emergency hospital bag with the things I needed to feel comfortable and good, instead of finding myself in a horrible hospital gown without the reassuring things from home.
  • I could have spent more time working on my narrow pelvis with an osteopath and healing the hidden wounds in my body, nurturing and loving my body instead of challenging it and loathing it as I sometimes did.
  • I should have better explained my wishes to my husband and family and insisted on having a slow and natural birth.
  • I could have waited to get in the birth pool, although it was very soothing, it probably slowed my labour a bit.
  • I would have hydrated myself better.
  • I could have spent more time talking to my baby as he was coming down instead of focusing on managing the intensity of the rushes, I could have reassured him and made him feel safe enough to make his way down.
  • I would have made sure there was food available for my support team
  • I could have told my dad and sister to go on with their day, eat and go out, instead of letting them be cooped in their room, stressed and anxious.
  • I would have resisted the constant monitoring and invasive procedures and asserted more clearly my wishes.
  • I should have refused the pitocin so far along in my labour, it did not help and probably caused my baby to get stuck as neither he nor I could work with those unnatural and erratic contractions.
  • I should have allowed myself to get mad

Birth is a journey, a teaching, a way to discover what is hidden in each of us. For me it was a journey to learn and understand who I really am and to discover that I had strength far beyond what I thought. I am a strong and resilient woman! Yeah! My son is showing signs that he will be a headstrong and steadfast person. He is a little warrior. He also had a precocious smile, which I take for a sign of his great resilience. We both came out stronger and our bond is precious and beautiful.

A few months after his birth I did study my medical records to try and understand what went wrong. I was probably looking for someone to blame. The thing is, it was a set of circumstances, I cannot blame myself, the OB, the nurses or my midwife for what happened. Life is full of unexpected and so is birth. Today, I view this birth as a transformative journey, it made me more aware of what I wanted as a woman and as a mother and it has set me on a road to become a professional childbirth educator and doula.

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