Olivia's birth story started nine years ago when her brother was born. Going to the hospital young, uneducated and scared, I ended up with a very medical birth that bore very little resemblance to the natural birth I had hoped for.
Five years later Lily was born. I returned to the hospital with better ideas of how to achieve a drug-free birth as well as a solid support team made up of my husband and a doula friend. My body wanted to birth my baby at home and kept stalling out in hospital so I ended up being augmented with pitocin. I had a blissful birth free of pain medication and felt that I had lived the experience I had been missing five years earlier.
Four years further down the road we welcomed another baby into our lives. As her little body grew inside mine, I felt an intense need for privacy. Having developed a network of friends who had freebirthed their babies, I knew that my options for this baby's birth were a homebirth with a midwife in attendance or a freebirth. As I struggled to make a firm statement that I wanted to choose an unassisted birth, I contemplated entering the care of a midwife “just in case” but I felt a strong aversion to being measured or tested in any way. Eventually I came to the realization that baby and I wanted to be left alone and I honored that message.
My pregnancy rolled along as all pregnancies do. I delighted in the growth of my baby as I measured the height of my fundus, tracked my blood pressure, and talked with my baby about our lives. I had help from friends locating my baby's heartbeat with a fetoscope and briefly with a doppler. I also asked for their help in determining my baby's position and I spent many hours playing “Guess that bump”. I had some concerns about baby's positioning but I kept telling myself that I was just worried for nothing.
I spoke with some people about our plans for a freebirth and with other people I glossed over the details, telling them only that we were planning to birth at home. I knew what our path was and I didn't feel the need to pull opposing opinions into my life. Instead I read unassisted birth stories and spent time with my friends who had freebirthed their babies, filling my heart with reminders of how wise women's bodies are.
Late in my third trimester, the pregnancy seemed to drag on and on. I felt huge, tired, and incredibly achy. As my due date loomed, I started tuning out the outside world and hiding out at home. One day I was so frustrated with the well-meaning phone calls of friends checking in on me that I put a towel over the phone and warned Liam that I would only be taking calls from him and my mother for the remainder of the pregnancy!
My due date came and went, and still I was pregnant. I frequently had contractions in the evening and I would go to bed hoping to be woken a few hours later by real labour, but I would wake up frustrated and still pregnant the next morning. I went for a couple of acupuncture appointments to see if I could nudge labour into starting. I left the appointments filled with an inner calm, and although they never triggered labour I was grateful for the readiness they created within me.
On July 20th, thirteen days after my due date, I woke up from a night of sleep broken by random contractions that had been somewhat building since the evening before. I told Liam that he had better stay home from work that day. I was expecting to have a quick birth and I was worried that his 30 minute bike commute would put him too far away if this was the big day.
The morning was filled with sporadic contractions. Sometimes they were 15 minutes apart, sometimes 45. I kept questioning if this was the real deal or not. The four of us went out for a walk around the block to see if I could get things to really kick in and although I had to stop walking through a few contractions, I still came home in much the same state as I'd left.
Around lunch time, I called my friend Arie for an emotional pick-me-up. I had a chance to vent my fears and frustrations and Arie gave me some suggestions on what I could try next. During our conversation I laughed for the first time that day and although I hadn't had any contractions at all during the phone call I felt I was in a much better place when I hung up the phone
I pulled out the peppermint massage oil that my friend Lee-Ann had given me during my Mother's Blessing and I got Liam to give me a neck rub. We put on some upbeat music and the energy of the day seemed to shift. Putting Arie's suggestion to good use, I started doing some stair lunges and I laughed at how ridiculous I looked trying to heave my enormous belly up two step at a time. I also threw back some black and blue cohosh for good measure, switching from the homeopathic remedy I'd been using during the previous days to the herbal tinctures.
The afternoon wore on and soon it was supper time. I'd been eating now and then throughout the day and although I ate some of my supper I couldn't quite deal with eating the entire plate of food. I had to stand and sway for some of the contractions and I was beginning to believe that this was real labour that was going to stick around. I'd never birthed a baby without pitocin before and it took some effort to combat the mindset that maybe I just couldn't make it all the way through this birth thing without some medical nudging.
The time between supper and the kids' bedtime was filled with Lily doing puzzles, Nick reading, me contracting steadily, and Liam dividing his attention between us. During Lily's birth I'd spent virtually all of my contractions hanging off of Liam's neck and dancing with him but I only felt the need to do this a handful of times during Olivia's birth.
Soon it was time for the kids to head to bed. Nick was tucked away without any fuss, but Lily was quite upset that I wasn't able to snuggle in bed with her as usual. Although we'd had many talks about how I might not be able to put her to bed when the baby was ready to be born, she was not at all happy about the change in routine. Liam ended up putting a movie on upstairs for her so I could have some quiet in the kitchen to focus on the birth.
Around 10:30 I was getting pretty uncomfortable and I decided to get into the birthing pool. I'd been trying to hold off so that I didn't get in too early causing things to slow down, but things chugged blessedly along and being in the water was an immense relief. About an hour later, Lily's movie ended and she was back in the kitchen and dangling her arms in the pool while visiting with me. I decided that getting out of the water and putting her to bed would be worth the effort so I could know she was tucked away for the night, so I climbed out of the pool and went to bed with her. I half dozed and had a couple of contractions as Lily quickly fell asleep and then I came back upstairs where I knew I could get seriously underway with this whole birth thing.
From that point, things became more intense. I hung off of Liam during contractions and I started to really vocalize through the intensity. My lower back started becoming quite achy, so I would sit between contractions and then stand and sway when the contractions came. I was getting tired!
Briefly, Liam and I went out onto our deck and stared up at the beautiful night sky. I remembered how intensely I'd wanted to spend my labour with Lily outdoors and I was grateful for the freedoms that a homebirth offered me. After a bit we went back inside to the privacy of our cozy home.
As my contractions became increasingly intense I started to find that I couldn't get comfortable during them or in between them. It was time to get back in the tub! So around 1:30 I climbed back into the beautiful water and found it immediately soothing. For the next hour or so, Liam undertook the seemingly endless job of emptying the cooling water and adding hot water. He and a few cooking pots made many many trips between the sink and the pool.
At this point I was falling asleep between the contractions, something that really helped me to cope. I alternated between sitting in the pool and kneeling with my body draped over the side of the pool. The length and intensity of the contractions continued to grow and during one fleeting moment I questioned my sanity in choosing to birth so far away from pain medications.
I kept waiting and waiting for the feeling of the baby's head descending, like during Lily's birth, so I would know it would be time to push soon. Not having anyone checking my dilation was such a wonderful change from my previous births, and I knew my body was opening at exactly the rate and speed it should.
From seemingly nowhere, I found my body pushing during a contraction when I was hanging over the edge of the pool. I wanted desperately to tell Liam that I was pushing but I couldn't speak until the contraction ended. At the end of the contraction, Liam asked if I'd been pushing and I confirmed that I had indeed. He prepared himself to catch our upcoming arrival. All plans of passively breathing the baby out went out the window as my body forcefully pushed during the next contraction. My baby seemed to go from quite high up to all of a sudden emerging during what I'm assuming was my water breaking.
With one of my hands, I felt the bulge of my baby emerging and I felt the ridge of what I assumed was the amniotic sac still partially over my baby's head. Shortly after, Liam uttered the now-infamous words “That's not a head, that's a bum!” and then “Is that OK?”. I remained calm and knew that I needed to push this baby out quickly so I gave a few more good pushes and out she flew.
Liam caught our baby in the water and scooped her up. As I turned to sit he helped me maneuver around the umbilical cord so that I was sitting in the pool and our little girl was resting on my chest. She was here! Here at last! She was born at 2:45 am on July 21st.
I held my baby's tiny body and said over and over again “I didn't think you were ever going to come out!”. The labour that seemed like it was going to go on for eternity was suddenly over and my long-awaited baby was birthed.
As we sat in the pool waiting for the placenta my baby nursed for the first time. About 15 minutes after our baby's arrival, I delivered the placenta. We tied off the umbilical cord with a braid of embroidery thread my friends had made for me during my Mother's Blessing and Liam cut the cord.
I climbed out of the pool and took a quick shower to warm up while Liam held our baby, then the three of us sat on the couch in the living room. The baby seemed to be not entirely pleased with this big cold world and her cries were loud in our house. Apparently Nick thought she was quite loud too as he woke up at 3:30 and came upstairs to see this noisy little baby. After he stopped being upset about being awake in the middle of the night, Nick was quite excited to meet his new little sister and he helped Liam and I to decide that she looked very much like an Olivia Margaret Johnstone. He also helped us to weigh her on the fish scale we'd bought and I was surprised to see that she was a whopping 8 lbs 6 oz, much bigger than my other babies who had weighed in just on either side of 7 lbs.
Things settled down after a bit and I started to get tired. Liam went into the basement to sleep with Lily while Olivia and I headed upstairs to our bedroom to sleep for a bit. I climbed into bed and curled around my tiny little baby. I dozed on and off for a couple of hours before I finally admitted that I was to buzzy with hormones and excitement to sleep anymore. I was also so very hungry and thirsty! Olivia and I returned to the living room where we sat and visited with Nick and ate breakfast. Lily woke a little while later and was overjoyed to meet her baby sister. Right away she insisted on holding and snuggling her and telling her just how much she loved her.
And there, in the passing of a night, our family was transformed. The kids fell asleep in a family of four and woke in a family of five. I brought a new life into the world without ever leaving the security and comfort of my home. And Liam and I together helped bring this little life we'd created out into the world.
It's been just about six months since that day and I've often reflected back on it. Birthing in my home was such a very special experience. I know that following the path of a freebirth allowed me to be open to the intuitive messages from both my baby and my body while allowing Olivia's birth to unfold in a normal and healthy way despite her untraditional presentation. I feel deeply blessed that such a beautiful experience unfolded in the quiet of my kitchen and that my daughter's life was able to start with such a sacred experience.
By Kim Johnstone