Naomi’s Birthing Story
I’ve been an over-achiever for as long as I can remember, and I approached pregnancy in the same vein. I did everything I could to ensure a smooth and healthy pregnancy, with the expectation that a smooth and healthy delivery would naturally follow. And it did – but not exactly the way I expected.
The Birth Plan
- Smooth and glowing pregnancy
- Home delivery with midwives
- Natural water birth – no drugs
- Healthy baby weighing no more than 8 pounds
- Latent labour (approx. 8 hours of which I could sleep through), active labour approx. 4 hours (where I would do my positions on the ball and breathing exercises), and transitional labour (where I would feel little pain because of the calm-inducing effects of the water, my visualizations, and my super pain tolerance)
- Delivery in water tub where the baby would slip out of me after a couple pushes and peacefully transition into the world – and I wouldn’t tear, as I’ve faithfully done my Kegels and because I was in the water
- After all was said and done, I would indulge in a super-carb-filled meal to replenish my energy (something like pasta or a roast)
The Birth Reality
- I did have a natural birth, but let me tell you that if my midwife had had drugs on her, I would have demanded she inject me NOW
- Latent labour – was that an urban myth?
- I used the tub to labour in, but ultimately delivered outside of the tub, on my back, with my legs in the air (a position I toted during my pregnancy as unnatural, and used more for medical convenience, not for the mother’s)
- I had to get 4 stitches because apparently I am an over-achieving pusher
- After I delivered, I ate a banana and half a container of yogurt because I HAD to, not because I wanted to
During the first week after my delivery, I think I actually suffered from some post-traumatic stress. I would think back to the labour and shudder at the memory of the pain. I think I had set up some pretty high expectations for a quick and easy labour and delivery due to the following premise:
A smooth pregnancy will lead to a smooth labour and delivery.
I had an extremely smooth pregnancy – in fact, I’ve had the smoothest pregnancy of any woman I’ve talked to. I had no morning sickness, no nausea, no cramps, no backaches, no weird food cravings or aversions, tons of energy, slept like a baby, only three crying episodes during the entire nine months (and they were caused by my beloved husband!) – I didn’t even get cankles (I wore high heels to work for 7 months)!
I danced and performed and did strength training for 8 months, and went for regular massages. I basked in the glow of people who said I looked amazing, was gracious towards my fellow pregnant friends who weren’t having hassle-free pregnancies, enjoyed having sex with my husband, and relished in the chivalry that emerges when you’re expecting.
I did tons of reading and research, so I was head of the class in our prenatal class, as well as a go-to person for information for my fellow pregnant friends. My midwives kept saying my weight gain was beautiful and my stomach was super strong and that I was doing all the right things. It had been reinforced over and over again how having a smooth pregnancy will lead to a smooth labour, delivery, and postpartum bounce-back, so naturally I thought I was golden. I now realize in retrospect that I confused “smooth” delivery with “not very painful.”
Naomi was born at 2:35pm on Monday, July 25th, 2011, at home. At the midwife appointment the Friday before, the midwife said I was 3 cm dilated and was like “Wow, you’re 30% there and you haven’t even done any work yet!” So, I was really optimistic after that visit, thinking the last 7 cm should be a piece of cake. Something else to add to my superstar pregnancy streak!
On Sunday, July 24th, I was becoming very aware of the looming due date the next day. Being not only an over-achiever but also a super punctual person, I did NOT want to go overdue. I had been off work for a week and had been chronically nesting. I also get everything done ahead of time, so by now, there was really nothing left to do – we’d even had the birthing tub set up for a week! Because I was so restless, I jumped with glee when my in-laws called and invited us over for dinner. We had a lovely evening, just the four of us, with dinner and sitting outside with a fire in the newly-built gazebo, listening to the frogs sing and the wind rustling the trees. I remember on the ride home having a strange feeling – slightly out-of-body, and a softening of the lights.
My first contraction happened at 11:35pm that night. We were lying in bed when it happened. I knew right away what it was. Deep in my lower back and pretty mild. I was snuggled in my husband’s nook and I looked at him and said, “I don’t think you’re going to work tomorrow!” I also remember thinking that I was going to win the Sears “waiting game” (for delivering exactly on my due date) and would get to go on a shopping spree! From what I learned in my prenatal class, latent labour was supposed to be pretty mild and irregular and that the best thing to do was to get some sleep.
My contractions got very intense very early on (I only had about maybe 5 contractions that I would even consider mild). I went and sat for a bit in the rocking chair in the nursery, looking at the crib and thinking: There’s going to be a baby in there soon!
The bathroom quickly became the place where I was comfortable to be during contractions. I told Mike to hurry up and get the tub set up. Because my mom and sister all had very short labours (like 4 hours, tops) and considering the intensity of my contractions, I took this as a sign of it progressing quickly (I mean, labour patterns naturally should run in the family – no?).
If I had known at my first contraction at 11:30pm that this baby wasn’t coming until 2:35pm the following afternoon, I don’t know if I could’ve made it mentally. After the contractions started coming on stronger, I told Mike to get up and start filling up the tub.
Now, I love my husband for many, many things, but speed is not one of them. He is a meticulous and careful personality type, which is perfect for his job and for many other things, but not when there is a sense of urgency. The intensity of the contractions started to alarm me and I remember looking at the tub thinking: That’s a really big tub! It’s going to take forever to fill! I remember watching Mike moving things around, hooking up the special hose and faucet, seemingly in slow motion.
When a contraction would hit, I would either sit on the toilet leaning forward, or grasp Mike’s hands and lean forward with my face buried in his chest, or lie on the mattress we had set up in the living room next to the tub.
I paged my midwife at 2:00am and told her I was in active labour. Thinking back, I remember hearing the doubt in her voice, but she said she would come (she later told me that she could tell by the calm way I was talking that I was NOT in active labour, but I didn’t know it was going to get way worse!).
I.K. arrived and I was soaking in the tub, which felt amazing. She checked me, and to my dismay, told me that I wasn’t far enough along and that she would have to come back later. Imagine my disappointment when she told me that I was only 1 cm dilated! I had regressed! So began the disheartening thought that things weren’t going to play out according to plan.
The next few hours were a blur. Mike and I were so exhausted. I was now switching between the tub and the mattress. I took a few bites of some toast. We would snooze between contractions on the mattress. When one would hit, I would get him to apply anti-pressure on my lower back. They would start in my lower back and then creep to my uterus, which was hard as a rock. I remember looking at the clock, thinking: This will be over in a minute. Another 45 seconds…30 seconds. Yeah, the visualizations I had of floating over waves in the sea and of a flower opening and closing – fuck that, they did nothing to help me. I was watching the clock.
At 6ish am, I told Mike to call I.K. back. She came and checked me and did say that I was in active labour (you mean I wasn’t this entire time!?) so she was going to stay. I was constantly disappointed at how much I was dilated because I wanted it to go faster! I was a really loud moaner during my contractions. I remember looking at I.K. and thinking: She should be doing something. I don’t know what, but something. I’m moaning! I just thought that it was weird that here I am, lying here, moaning away, and she was just sitting there.
I ate a Popsicle in the tub and realized how thirsty I was. I went out on the deck at 8:30am and saw what a beautiful morning it was. I watched the cars driving to work and felt the sun and the breeze on my face. I found a comfortable position sitting sideways on my patio chair. During one of my contractions, my water broke. I’ve heard it can be a gush or it can be a piddle – mine was Niagara Falls. Good thing I was on the deck! Someone joked that it was typical me that I did it in a place that was easy to clean. Sure enough, Mike was out there 10 minutes later hosing it down. We told I.K. and she came to check the colour. She said there was a hint of green, which concerned her, and for a moment she debated going to the hospital (because if it’s meconium in the amniotic fluid there could be a risk of infection). I thought: I so do NOT want to get into a car right now! After a bit of an assessment, she decided that the colour was clear enough that there wasn’t much meconium, and that we could stay home. Good thing, because I was so intent on having a home birth that I hadn’t even packed a hospital bag!
After my water broke, everything intensified. The contractions would start in my back, travel to my front, then down into my bowels. They made me whimper in despair and my knees buckle. I endured quite a few of them standing up, gripping onto the kitchen island. Mike would tell me I was amazing and doing great – and to breathe. At this point, I found that the only position I found bearable was on my side on the mattress on the floor.
During some of the more intense contractions, I.K. would tell me to open my mouth. She put drops of Rescue Remedy under my tongue and I instantly relaxed. I thought: So, THIS is Rescue Remedy! She did that a few times. Except it seemed to relax me so much that my contractions actually slowed down a bit, so she made me walk around – which was torturous because sure enough, the contractions came back. That midwife knows her stuff. I kept running through all the women in my life who were mothers and thought that if they could do it, I could, too. That was a thought that kept me going – that I was soon going to be in the mighty company of these women who I felt an instant admiration for, in a way I couldn’t relate to before.
Some comic relief: At about 10:30am, there was a knock on the door. Mike answered it, while protectively using his frame to guard the entire entranceway. I heard my friend Basia say that she was dropping off a gift for me. I contemplated saying hello (which I realize was ridiculous, as I was naked and about to pop a baby). Mike is usually a very friendly, laid-back, happy-go-lucky guy, but that day he was very businesslike.
The pressure was getting intense. The second midwife, B.A., arrived around noon. I was so happy to see her! I.K. said I was ready to start pushing and I almost jumped with glee. Being a goal-oriented person, I was excited to start doing something that would ensure progress, plus being the LAST step! She said I could get back in the tub if I wanted to, but by then I was unwilling to move from my one bearable position on the mattress, so I said I’d have it right there. I.K. gave me the instructions that when I felt my next contraction coming, lift my head and my legs up with my hands behind my knees, hold my breath, and push (the position I said I would never deliver in because it was “unnatural” and was contrary to gravity. Whatever!).
I.K. and B.A. were a great team! I.K. gave me tough love and barked instructions at me while B.A. rubbed my leg and told me how great I was doing. After my very first push, they were both so impressed with the progress of it. B.A. even said to I.K. , “We should be filming this and show it at the clinic!” I felt a bit of pride in hearing that (yes, some positive reinforcement!). She did ask where my camera was and I absentmindedly pointed to it at the table. I didn’t notice her taking pictures until I reviewed them after the birth and noticed she took pictures of… everything!
Pushing took about an hour in all. It was by far my favourite part of labour. I felt like an Olympian. Mike was holding my head up and feeding me sips of water. During each set of pushes, all three of them would yell: “Go! Go! Go! Push! Push! Push! Keep going!” and then in between they would tell me I was doing great, I’d get rubs, and water. I didn’t feel any pain at this point – just lots of pressure and a bit of burning.
Then they said they could see the top of the hairy head, which was weird because I think I was expecting to feel some sort of “baby thing” between my legs. That was probably why I was so surprised when during one of my pushes she shot out of me like a football. It felt like a big emptying gush and instant relief. I leaned back into Mike’s hands and breathed deeply.
After a moment, I cried out: “What is it??” and B.A. said “Why don’t you see for yourself?” She placed this beautiful baby on my chest… it was a girl! So sweet with her eyes closed and thick dark hair.
She was whimpering quietly as B.A. towelled her off. She showed me how to express colostrum with my finger and feed it to her, which she took to hungrily. Then she placed her head on my boob and she actually made contact with my nipple, and I felt my first rush of pride in my little girl (another little over-achiever?). Naomi hadn’t cried yet and was very pale so the midwives were a bit concerned. They worked her over to get a good cry out of her, and it took almost an hour. There was a moment when the midwives debated us going to the hospital because they weren’t comfortable leaving her with us in that condition. Now, if I didn’t want to go to the hospital before, I REALLY didn’t want to go anywhere now!
Luckily, Naomi did get some colour and the midwives felt better. She weighed a healthy 7 pounds 6 ounces and was 19.25 inches long.
I was starving. Remember that huge carb-filled feast I was planning on? I ate a banana ravenously, then opened a container of yogurt. I ate half and was done. I was exhausted beyond exhausted. The midwives gave Naomi to Mike to develop some skin to skin contact, and put me in the shower – the BEST shower of my life. This was when I was SO happy to be in my own home. They then helped me into my sexy underwear and tucked all three of us in bed. I barely remember them leaving.
Around 4pm, there was a knock at my door. It was my sister and her 2 daughters. She said she knew it was my due date and thought she’d drop in for a visit! There I was standing at the top of the stairs with Naomi in my arms. “Hi! I just had a baby!” I went back to bed, but my sister said to the girls: “Let me take some pictures of you and your new cousin!” So, there we were, Naomi and I in bed in a total daze while my two little nieces were posing for photos. I haven’t seen those photos but I bet they aren’t pretty. I remember a few days later getting a little pissed that she had done that! She’s had babies – did she want a photo shoot an hour and a half after delivering a baby??
So began the rest of my life as a mother. My birth on paper was picture perfect (well, a part of me wishes I delivered in the tub, but there’s always next time!) but there was a part of my mind that kept flashing back to the contractions. I was in shock – I mean, I’d heard it was the most painful thing ever, but I just plain expected myself to handle pain better. I’ve always handled pain very well, from not crying when I got my ears pierced, to getting 5 wisdom teeth pulled without being put under and then eating tacos 3 days later, to refusing to take the T3s when I had my broken arm because I’d rather deal with the pain and be regular than have no pain and not go to the bathroom. Even I.K. told Mike during the labour that “She handles pain very well!”
And as my good friend told me, I probably did. I didn’t know what to expect – I hadn’t been through labour before. There’s really nothing you can even compare it to. Really, you can do all the prep you want but nothing but having gone through it before can really prepare you. When during my labour (especially because I was vocal about the moaning during the contractions) I was thinking, “Why isn’t I.K. doing anything? I’m obviously in a lot of pain!” I now realize that as a midwife, she has seen thousands of births, and this was a delivery going very well. Yes, I was moaning a lot, but never did I say “I need drugs!” or “I can’t do this!” or “Take me to the hospital!” She was able to gauge from me that I was able to handle what was going on, though in my head I wasn’t so sure of myself.
It was comforting to talk to a few of the strong moms I know – those that I would expect to be able to handle labour very well – and learn that this is very common reaction, that they all experienced a lot of pain and that right after, they didn’t think they could do it again. And as time has passed, the vivid memories of the pain are being softened by the surmounting joy and love that grows every moment with my beautiful girl. I am definitely at a point where I look back at the birth of Naomi with pride and joy. When people asked where I had her, I would point at the spot on the floor and would say, “Right there.” Mike and I have been renovating this house for the past 4 years for this moment, and the house had served us well.
Shared by Mary Snow from Ontario, Canada.
Photos by Unique Journeys Photography, Waterloo, Ontario.