Tuesday, September 1, 2009

There's no place like home (The birth story of Zoey Eliza Lane)

I've always felt like Dorothy's statement in The Wizard of Oz is a wonderful way to describe birth: "There's no place like home." Last year I came to realize that the story could also illustrate our fears about birth, our reliance on birth professionals and experts, and how hard it can be to see our own strength and power.

Dorothy found herself in a scary, wonderful, unfamiliar place and desperately wanted to find her way home. Along the way, she learned a lot about love, courage and smarts. When she finally reached the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy did not find the saviour she expected. Indeed, her most revered Wizard was as human and unsure as she was, with no practical way to get her home. When all hope was lost, the Good Witch came along and told Dorothy a message she'd been unwilling and too impatient to hear when she first arrived in Oz: Dorothy could get home, on her own, at any time. She had the ability and the tools to do it all along! With this message came such a sweet relief, and although grateful for all she'd learned about herself along the way, Dorothy quickly tapped her heels and stated, "There's no place like home."

And so it is with birth. For me, the past decade has been a journey that has led to my current state of trust in my body, my babies and the birth process itself. As I type this, Zoey is curled up sleeping on her daddy's chest. Her birth was exactly as the "Good Witch", Mother Earth, or simply the Goddess told me it could be over ten years ago as I was pregnant with my first child: natural, unhindered by observers, all done under my own power. I heard the message but at the time needed a journey to give me the confidence I needed to have the birth I wanted.

Last Friday our sweet Zoey was born, in a whirlwind of bliss and pain and magic. I'd been walking around anxiously awaiting her for weeks, even though I was sure of my dates and kept telling myself and others that there was a possibility I'd be overdue as in my last pregnancy. At about 35 weeks I got an overwhelming urge to clean my house, and the floors got fastidiously scrubbed, baby clothes were washed, and so on. At about the same time I realized that my brain was too fuzzy to work, and made sure I'd be on maternity leave at 36 weeks. I got a local henna artist to "tattoo" my belly with a goddess-like figure. I still have the tan with the white outline of where she was! We went away on vacation to Nova Scotia for a week and I got to sit in the sun on my beloved South Shore beaches, visit with my wonderful Grammie and hang out with Joe's family. We returned home to hot, humid weather and waited. I'd been having prelabour contractions for weeks, but they never got into any kind of rhythm. I was having a hard time getting my big self up from low places and my feet were swollen. Each day I said I was ready to have this baby.

Two days past my due date, my dad was visiting us. I suggested we all go to King's Landing, an historical settlement with costumed characters, houses, mills and farms dating from 1700-1900. Four hours later, my feet throbbing but pleased with the fun day, we ate our picnic lunch and headed out. My dad left town the next morning, which was Thursday, and that evening I went out for a long walk after dark on the premise that I needed ice cream. When I got home I popped in a movie and after a while it hit me: I was in labour. Contractions were coming with some kind of regularity and they just felt different. Off to bed I took myself at 1 am Friday morning, pleased that I'd be seeing my baby within the next couple of days.

Friday morning I was up at 7 am, before the rest of the house. I wasn't horribly hungry but managed to eat something (only a week later details are blurry) and played online for a couple of hours, looking at birth stories and my favourite birth practitioner's blog (I think I read every post there!). Later I picked up a book but I couldn't get my brain to focus on anything; I was too excited and already starting to stray into "birthland". I had some snuggles with my six year old on the couch and put in a movie to keep him occupied. Then I said good morning to my ten year old who was blissfully stretched out in her bed, enjoying her last days of summer vacation. At about 9:30 am I went out to pick up my brother and drive him to work as I'd promised the day before; I didn't yet want to wake up Joe or my mom (she lives in the apartment upstairs) because I just wasn't ready to share my sweet little secret yet. Sitting in the car wasn't the most comfortable thing in the world, but that only got me more excited that baby would be here sooner rather than later.

I woke Joe up after 10 am with, "We're going to have this baby sometime in the next 24 hours. We need to clean up the house!" Poor guy, I just couldn't wait, so he crawled out of bed and put a pot of coffee on. We sat down and drank a cup and then started in on dishes and tidying. I'm sure he did 75% or more of the work, because I'd do a few things then sit down, or just keep pacing. I timed contractions for a little while and found them to be 8-11 minutes apart, and made sure the few birth items we "needed" were out and ready. I had cord clamps even though we planned on cutting the cord about an hour after the birth, chux pads, towels and clothes for baby, a fetoscope, some Shepherd's Purse tincture, a vinyl, flannel-backed table cloth and peroxide for cleanup.

The rest of the day is a bit of a blur to me. Joe took the kids out to play with friends in the neighbourhood and went to the grocery store to pick up some supplies. When the kids returned, my mom took them upstairs to watch TV and got them ready for a sleepover. I had been honest with my mom about my plans to have an unassisted birth unless I felt I needed to call a midwife for assistance or go to the hospital. On many occasions she had stated her fears about the birth and we had to respectfully agree to disagree, so it was very heartwarming to see her step in and help with the kids when I needed her to. At this point I don't think she realized how soon Zoey would come; she was cooking a roast beef dinner for the whole family and planning to head out of town in the morning. At about 4:30 pm she came downstairs and jokingly asked me, "Why don't you just go to the hospital?" I was in the middle of a contraction at the time and I responded, "Because I'll tell them to put in a fucking epidural!" Mom looked surprised by my response and said, "But you didn't need one with the other two!" to which I replied, "Yeah, and it hurt just as bad- I don't think natural birth is easy, I just don't want drugs!"

For the next hours I just kept moving. Contractions were getting stronger and closer together. I'd be pacing the floor, then one would hit and I'd look at Joe, say, "Ow!!" and try rocking my pelvis and breathing. I got him to put counter pressure on my back for a couple of contractions but as much as that helped, I found it too hard to make sure I was near him and in position each time one hit. He needed to find something other than cleaning house and staying near me to keep him busy, so he started cooking dinner.

A few times during the day, curious, I tried to check and see how dilated I was, but I couldn't reach my cervix. Sometime around 5 pm I finally could reach the front of my cervix and feel a strong bag of waters bulging with a hard little head above it. It was incredibly cool to feel the edges of my own stretchy cervix and I decided I was 4 to 6 centimeters dilated. This gave my morale a good little boost.

I got in the shower for a bit; I'd been too blah for the last weeks of my pregnancy to pick up the birth pool I was borrowing from a friend who lives about an hour away. I was in a lot of pain but when I thought about the birth pool I didn't regret its absence because I remembered that my big jacuzzi tub hadn't helped much in my second labour. After the shower I started a routine: I'd walk around the kitchen and bedroom for half a minute or so and then I'd feel another contraction coming. I'd get into the bathroom as quickly as I could and sit on the toilet, the only place I could bear the sensations(okay, the pain!) I was feeling. I'd be moaning in the dark, candle-lit bathroom and then when the contraction was coming down I'd get up again and pace. I never got into a "zen" place with this birth. Instead, I felt like I was surviving each contraction. At one point I said to Joe, "I must be a sadist to be a doula!"

Although I didn't realize it, Zoey was almost ready to join us. I was getting to the point where I was starting to push with contractions, and a my water broke with only a small gush of amniotic fluid(actually I was on the toilet and could hear it spray out). Time passed, and at a certain point I got a bit panicky and felt claustrophobic in the bathroom. I walked out into the bedroom and told Joe that I needed him to be with me. He'd had the supper on "low" for a while, keeping himself busy adding spices and stirring pots. All of a sudden, I felt hot, nauseated and like I couldn't breathe, and I demanded that he turn off the food and "get rid of the smell" (he turned on a fan in the bedroom). I also wanted all lights out, doors locked and windows closed, and he dutifully ran around to get this done. I am so impressed remembering his demeanor all day. He was just calmly and quietly going about his business, letting me do my thing and not showing any fear at all- quite the accomplishment considering this was his first baby, his first birth, and we had no outside help. He had this amazing faith in my body and nature and, like me, wanted to greet our little one on his own terms.

I tried pushing for a few contractions on my hands and knees. Then I tried standing for a few. No luck. I was not enjoying pushing as it didn't seem the contractions were any easier, at any rate, I felt like it was getting worse. Joe stood up to check something in the kitchen and I wailed, "You can't leave me! You have to stay right here!" I was squeezing his hand really tightly with every push, but he never complained. I remember saying variations of "I don't want to do this/ God I wish I didn't have to do this/ Fuck this is hard/ But I know I have to do it" in between contractions, all the while thinking, "I will never do this again!"

I wanted my baby out but being upright wasn't doing the trick, in fact it felt like it was putting too much pressure on my back and hips and hurt like hell. I mumbled something like, "This isn't working" and crawled up into the bed. Half sitting up, half lying on one side, I started pushing hard and hollering (I don't think the sound was all that human). A couple of pushes later, I felt my baby moving down toward the outside world. I reached down and could feel a hard little head just a couple of centimeters inside of me; I got excited and grabbed Joe's hand to feel it too. Another push and the burning started; her head eased out as I struggled to relax and go as gently as possible although my body was pushing like crazy.

This is where the magic started...

This was so hard but I was elated as I rubbed her hard, round, seemingly HUGE head. I've never caressed my babies as they've come into this world and here I was feeling a wrinkled little ear and wet hair on this little one. Joe was crouched, watching her, saying hello and gently touching her head and ear along with me. I'm glad he could see her, because I couldn't- my belly was in the way! Then I looked down at Joe and said, "Ok, don't touch!" because I mistook her wriggling as him manipulating/"delivering" her, and I was afraid I'd tear. He told me later how amazing it was to see her head rotate and her wriggle each shoulder out, "I wasn't worried about her- I could see how strong she was." As she was sliding out I said, "Don't let the baby fall off the bed!" because I didn't think I could reach her and she slid out in a huge gush of water(it flooded the bed and splashed all over Joe!). Joe caught her easily and a second later our baby was on my chest.

We watched in awe as she made a couple of little squawking noises...then promptly fell asleep. I was taken aback for a second and looked at her with concern, but her breathing was good and she had good muscle tone. Our little one was simply tired with all the work of the day! The room was warm so we didn't rush those first few minutes, we just sat there and hugged and stared and rubbed her back and head. Joe got up to get us something warm and to get the very wet bedding out from under me, replacing it with a our vinyl tablecloth, the fabric side up under me. I cradled the baby and looked to see if we had our boy or girl, then showed Joe and said, "You got your Zoey!"

Zoey was born at 7:50 pm. We all spent the next hour in near silence, eating the (reheated!) supper Joe had made: chicken and this amazing chickpea and veggie side dish he invented while puttering as I laboured. I took some Tylenol to dull the afterpains and from time to time reached down to feel my stomach and make sure my uterus was nice and hard and shrinking. I didn't want any complications to mar our perfect birth. We all snuggled and stared and nursed, waiting for her placenta. It was really important to me that we get this third stage over with safely before we started calling people.

Shortly after 9 pm, I was getting tired of waiting, and figured it would be a good idea to get up and try to go pee anyways. So off we waddled to the bathroom. I did have a small gush of blood on the toilet (yay! this meant my placenta was ready!) but didn't have any urges to push. I thought about using cord traction but I was worried I might be pulling on a placenta that wasn't fully "off" of the uterus, so instead I followed the cord with my fingers up inside me...found my lovely cervix again, still soft and stretchy around the edges and there was my placenta sitting right there. Now that I could visualize it I sat on the edge of the toilet, held a basin under me and gave a hard PUSH! Easy as that. Joe came in the bathroom and clamped and cut her cord (we didn't really need the clamp as her cord had stopped pulsing a while before this). Then daddy snuggled her in a towel while I had a shower and wiped down the bathroom. Ten or so minutes later, dressed in comfy pj's, we got my mom and the kids down for introductions.

We've been in bliss ever since! The next day we weighed and measured her and she was 8 lbs 2 oz and 20 3/4 inches long. Three days later I took her to the hospital to have her newborn metabolic screening done and had the neonatologist do a quick exam on her. We also needed help with nursing as Zoey likes to suck her tongue up to the top of her mouth, but that is fodder for another post. We've been taking it easy, not venturing far from home, getting to know each other. This little gal is just perfect in every way! Her daddy deserves another mention here because he is over the moon and is keeping our household running while I rest and nurse pretty much constantly.

What we keep saying is how natural and right this birth felt. Yes, it hurt like hell- no orgasmic birth for me- but I am already saying I'd do it again, and it's the trade-off: no drugs=energetic blissed-out mama after birth. We really weren't scared, in fact, we went into it with a lot of confidence and excitement. We took on a huge amount of personal responsibility for this birth yet it didn't seem like a burden. If anything, we felt strong and empowered for doing so. My mom kept asking me if I was trying to prove something by having Zoey unattended at home, and the honest answer is no. I wanted to let my body do its job without influence or interference. We got that plus a lot of magic. For our family, there truly is no place like home.

You can see her daddy's tribute to her birth at his blog, The National Affairs Desk.


  1. What a beautiful birth story! Thanks for sharing

  2. How beautiful and blissful. I had an unplanned unassisted home birth, and although it was tense at first, in the end... having my husband and I welcome our son into the world in the dark, quiet of our home was so special.

  3. Thanks for sharing your story! :-) I'm planning a UC next spring. Will bookmark your story to re-read for courage and inspiration.

  4. Beautiful. Beyond words.

  5. Great birth and congrats! You did wonderfully! :)