Category: home birth

Torre’s Birth Story

DSC07084My due date (Feb. 7) passed without any excitement other than preparing for my parents’ arrival from Victoria, BC. I spent the day taking it easy at home, then walked with our housemate Kristen over to the house where she’s staying for my parents’ visit. We had tea and chatted, then I headed home to wait for Matt and my parents to come from the airport. A huge snow storm was building, and it ended up taking them three and a half hours to get home through the traffic and horrible driving conditions! We had a great night though, and I was so happy the Truck (our nickname for the baby) had waited for them to arrive.

That night around 3 a.m. I woke up feeling crampy and moved out to the futon in the living room so I wouldn’t disturb Matt with my tossing and turning. I managed to sleep between these early contractions, trying to ignore my excitement wondering if Feb 8 would be my baby’s birthday!      morning Feb 8This was the morning of Feb. 8 as seen off our balcony. I continued to have crampy contractions throughout the day and enjoyed spending time with my parents and watching Matt and Kristen out on the street helping push and dig out vehicles stuck in the snow. A lot of cars needed rescuing and even some transport trucks! I tried to take it easy and save my energy for when labour really got started, but I also walked the halls of our apartment building to encourage things along. DSC06962That night, we had steak for dinner and watched a movie before bed. Around 11pm when the movie was over, we timed the contractions I was still having, and they were 7-10 minutes apart. We all headed to bed and wondered what the next day would bring.

Well, I didn’t manage very much sleep before my contractions became too strong to sleep through. Around 2 a.m. I moved out to the living room and started timing contractions, dozing off to sleep in between. By 4:30 I was struggling to cope by myself, so I woke up my mom and she came out to help me time and press on my back. After an hour of that, my contractions were coming every five minutes and lasting a minute or so, so I finally paged our midwife Valerie to let her know I was in labour. She arrived at 7 a.m., checked me out and said that while I was in labour, the baby wasn’t coming any time soon. “Take some Gravol and try to get some rest,” she said, and promised to come back in the afternoon.DSC06972 Well, it seemed like Feb. 9 would be the Truck’s birthday, and it was a much nicer looking morning than the 8th! Not that I cared at that point – I took my gravol and mostly slept for a few hours. Little did I know how important that rest would turn out to be!DSC06971Our mattress is not the best, so my Mom encouraged me to come out and lay on the futon hoping I’d be more comfortable there. I continued to labour and doze, watched Matt play video games and cuddled with Nimoy while I still had a belly for him to rest his head on!  early labour 3Whether the gravol started to wear off or it was simply labour taking its course, the time came for Matt to turn off the xbox and sit with me so I could hold his hand during contractions.DSC06985Around 5pm, after putting in a full day at the midwifery clinic, Valerie returned to see how I was progressing. The best news was that I had made it into active labour and could get into the birth pool (getting in too early can slow everything down, so it’s best to wait for labour to be established). THAT was a huge relief, although contractions were still painful. The warm water took the edge off, and I had it in my mind that I would cope so much better in the pool, so I think it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.DSC06995While I was in the pool, Valerie continued to monitor the baby’s heart rate and my blood pressure to make sure we were both handling labour well. I continued to rest as deeply as possible between contractions, not thinking about what was past and not worrying about how much work was still to come. It was definitely easier to relax in the pool, and I was pleasantly surprised to catch myself waking up sometimes as a contraction came on. Matt and my Mom were amazing support through every contraction, especially since I had a lot of back labour and probably couldn’t have handled it without tons of counterpressure and massage.DSC06991Throughout almost the whole labour, I also had really intense hiccups, and this was almost as exhausting as contractions!

At this point, there aren’t any more pictures because Matt and my Mom were too busy supporting me to worry about the camera, and my Dad was filming with the video camera on and off, but that won’t ever make it to this blog 😛

To make a long story short (since this is what my memory has done in the last few weeks anyways), day turned into evening, and evening turned into night. I moved from the pool to the bathroom and laboured on the toilet (which was way more painful, but apparently more effective), moved to the living room and hung off Matt’s shoulders, got back in the pool and basically did a circuit of the whole apartment. My second time in the pool, the backup midwife arrived – one of her clients had gone to the hospital earlier in the day but turned out not to be in labour, and the midwife was so happy because she really wanted to be part of a home birth. It was great to have someone with fresh energy, and she took over massaging my back and checking mine and the baby’s vitals for a little while.

The progress of my labour was defined by even numbers – I was at 2 cm when Valerie first arrived, 4 by the time she let me in the pool, 6 was when the backup midwife came, and 8 is where I stayed for hours. The baby’s head was turned to the side, so it couldn’t descend quite far enough to open my cervix all the way, and my bag of waters wouldn’t break. In a sense it was good because the amniotic sac gave the baby a cushion of space to turn the way it needed to, but Valerie was concerned that my uterus would fatigue and I would get too tired if I remained stalled at 8 for too long. It was a bit before 11pm that she finally decided to break my water and send me to the bathroom for what were now even more intense contractions.

I remember wondering in the bathroom what the neighbours could hear and what they were thinking. I could hear that it sounded like I was being murdered, but I was way past caring. Most contractions at this point were overwhelming, but I tried to pull myself together by the end of each one, not to cry or scream any longer than I absolutely needed to. Matt and my Mom were still constantly by my side, and in some ways the insanity I felt at 8 cm was easier to deal with than my painful contractions at 2cm because I knew I was coming close to the end.

I got back into the pool for a third and final time (it had been topped up with warm water since hours had passed since I first got in) and started to feel pressure with some of the contractions. The contractions were still unbearable, but the baby’s heart rate was excellent, and I knew a trip to the hospital for pain relief would be more misery than it was worth. With the end in sight, I was thrilled to have the backup midwife check me and say that the baby had turned its head and I could push whenever I wanted.

I wanted. So I pushed… and got nowhere. After a few frustrating and painful tries, the midwife let me know that the pushing stage of labour could take over an hour for first-time moms, and that actually came as a huge relief to realize I didn’t have to do it all in five minutes. (Matt, on the other hand, was horrified but wisely kept his mouth shut about how tired HE was!) Remembering that there was no time limit and that my body would work at its own pace let me relax into the pain and conflicting reflexes of pushing, and about 15 minutes later the baby was crowning. Valerie had been resting on the futon since it was now after 1am, but she quickly arrived in our room and got her baby-catching gloves on when I screamed the scream.

I was squatting in the pool with my weight completely supported by Matt who was kneeling on our floor and leaning over the edge of the pool. I remember looking down and realizing that a head was going to appear between my legs, just like in all the birth videos I’d watched over the last many months. It seemed impossible, but as the baby began to crown it became inevitable, and then it happened. Moments later my body began its final push, and as my hands cradled the baby’s head, the body slid out and I lifted him out of the water onto my belly.

“You’re so big!” were my first words of amazement as I held the clean, slippery creature who was my child. He cried, and the midwives started drying him off, while I babbled, “There’s a cord, there’s a cord.” I could only lift him to my belly because he was all tangled up with the umbilical cord around his neck, too snug for me to move, although he was pink and yelling. Valerie ended up turning him upside down and rolling him over to untangle him, then she handed him back and I looked at his feet, and then I looked whether he was a boy, and he was. I hadn’t known the Truck was a boy, but I felt like it was, and I would have been so surprised by a daughter.DSC06996Valerie and Matt helped me move from the pool to our bed so I could deliver the placenta (so weird) and the midwives could monitor any bleeding. Torre lay on my chest and held Matt’s finger in his tiny, brand-new hand. It was a very special time to realize that we were now a family.DSC07000Torre was weighed and measured, the midwives made sure we were both healthy and stable, and they had some phone calls and paper work to take care of, then they went their way and we were left with the wonder of this new baby.

photo(28)And we are still amazed!

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We Have a Son!

DSC07010Torre (rhymes with Story) Clayton Sampson was born at home into my arms at 1:25am on February 10, 2013. He weighed 8 lbs and was 21 inches long. We are absolutely in love with him and savouring all the newness and sweetness of these early days.DSC07047There will be more details and pictures to come – for now of course, we are much too busy cuddling and being charmed by our sweet son 🙂

Yet Another Reason Home Birth is Great

This article tells a great story, but I wouldn’t want it to be me!

What if I can’t take the Pain?

As I’ve mentioned earlier in this home birth series, I have become convinced that epidurals are not a free pass on the pain of labour, and part of my reasoning for choosing home birth is my commitment to not have one unless it becomes medically necessary. I am not morally opposed to epidurals at all, and I do not think I will be more of a woman for birthing a child without one, but having decided that I would rather go without one, I am obviously faced with how I will cope with the pain of labour (incidentally, not everybody agrees that labour is a painful experience, but I’m not counting on an ecstatic birth experience either).

This is the hardest topic for me to write about because I can do all kinds of research and hear all kinds of stories from all kinds of moms, but when it comes down to it I just don’t know what to expect. I am so aware that I could very well look back on this post as hopelessly naive, but at the very least this will be a record of what I’m thinking now.

Before I get into coping with pain, I’d like to talk about pain in general. First off, pain is not necessarily suffering – people go through pain in many situations where it is simply accepted as part of the experience. Strenuous exercise is painful, but people put themselves through it up to multiple times a week. Women often wear shoes that cause them pain for a whole night out, but it’s worth it to look and feel glamorous. People who get tattoos or piercings bear the pain of those procedures as an investment in their self-expression, and I’m sure there are even more examples you could think of!

I saw an internet “fact” that women in labour experience pain equivalent to 25 bones being broken. That’s horrible! First of all, fear and anxiety only make the perception of pain worse so putting that idea in women’s minds will probably make their labour more painful. Also, I do not think labour pains should be compared to broken bones because bones were not made to be broken, but babies were made to be born. Some experts say that the pain of labour cues the mother to move in ways that help the baby position itself properly and to assume postures that make it easier for the baby to navigate the pelvic cavity.

Pain also triggers the release of endorphins in the brain, which act as natural pain killers. Obviously most women do not find their endorphins completely eliminating the pain, but the body is set up in such a way that as pain increases, so too does a person’s ability to cope with it. As the intensity of labour increases, so does the release of endorphins which not only modifies perception of pain but also the perception of time and place and helps you forget the pain once it is past (hello, families with multiple children!). Endorphins also contribute to the elation that women experience once the baby is out (it’s not just relief, but an actual chemical high that your body produces). Not only do endorphins offer all kinds of benefits to women, but babies also receive the same effects while they are being born (not an easy task) because all the hormones a woman releases during labour cross the placenta into the baby’s bloodstream as well.

If all this is true, why do so many women say that labour was the worst/most painful thing they’ve ever experienced? Part of the reason might be because how our culture deals with birth, the broad perception that suffering is inevitable and extreme, and the environment in which women are commonly expected to labour (under bright lights in hospital rooms surrounded by strangers) all lead many women to produce adrenaline instead of endorphins. Interventions that involve Pitocin or other drugs being administered also interrupt the feedback cycle of pain and endorphin release and can increase a woman’s production of adrenaline as well. Adrenaline cancels out the feel-good effects of oxytocin, which includes endorphin release, so women’s perception of pain increases. More stress means more pain means more stress in a vicious cycle, and no wonder there are so many horror stories of women who are traumatized rather than empowered by the births of their children.

So back in September I had been reading a very rah-rah natural birth book and was all excited about embracing pain in labour as part of the process and not being fazed or thinking about suffering but just taking each contraction as it comes and… basically rocking labour. Then one morning I woke up with cramps, just like menstrual cramps except they lasted about a minute and came every couple of minutes with total relief in between. I called the midwife who said it could either be preterm labour (a miscarriage) or nothing, and it turned out to be nothing. After a few hours the cramping stopped, I spent the rest of the day exhausted like I had been kickboxing all morning, and I realized that the little sample of labour pain that I might have just been through had been terrible – not the kind of thing I could just “embrace” and it would disappear. That was disappointing.

I’ve been a little bit re-inspired lately though in my abilities to cope with pain in labour because I have had a bunch of really painful chiropractor appointments. I’ve been having pain in my low back and down my tailbone, and the joints between my pelvic bones and tail bone are jammed, so it’s not something they can just crack and it’s fixed. Instead they are working to release the muscles that are knotted up so that the joints can loosen and move properly. The muscle work basically involves my chiropractor finding the knots and pressing on them while I move my leg through a range of motion. The knots are like pain capsules buried in my flesh that explode under pressure and then morph into increasingly fiery burning pain as I move my leg. It’s brutal because I am the one who worsens the pain by my movement, so as the pain builds I have to accept that it will only get worse and will myself through the motion.

Since seeing the chiropractor I have been taking a break from massage therapy, but that is another area when I am pretty experienced at forcing my muscles to soften and relax under really painful pressure. I know that tensing up against the pain will only make it worse and work against the masseuse, and the pain is not a symptom of anything being wrong other than my muscles carrying too much tension all the time.

Basically my mentality towards pain in labour at this point is that pain will come but dreading it won’t make it any better, and resisting it won’t help either. If I suffer, I suffer, and maybe I will look back on myself with pity or rage for wanting to experience the toil of labour, but at this point I really trust the process, pain and all, and I want to give myself the best chance at achieving it. If I change my mind or get lost in the pain, then I will be grateful to live in a time and place where the government will pay for my epidural – that’s amazing. We will go the hospital and whatever pain I face in the delay between decision and epidural will be the cost of my gamble.

Oh, I should mention we’re planning to rent a birth pool, which I have heard is amaaazing for helping to cope with pain in labour. Apparently for a woman to be submerged in warm water that is deep enough to cover the top of her uterus has the same effect in lowering her perception of pain as a shot of Demerol. But without the side effects or interruption of the body’s coping hormones. So I’ll let you know how that works out!

Why Home is Awesome

Having shared why I feel just as safe to birth at home as in the hospital, you might still be confused why I’d rather have this experience at home. Honestly, I am looking forward to labouring and meeting the Truck in our apartment. I have a friend who had a natural birth in the hospital just about a year ago, and I was so impressed with her! She was offered an epidural as soon as she arrived at the hospital but insisted that she at least wanted to try to see how far she could get on her own (she got all the way). When she was telling me about the experience it was before I got pregnant, but I told her that I also hoped to birth without interventions and that I was intrigued by the idea of home birth. I was braced for a judgy reaction like I might have had a year earlier, but her instant response was, “oh, that sounds so relaxing!” I think that was the vote of confidence I needed to take myself seriously as I continued reading and researching my decision.

As I anticipate labour, I am happy not to worry about discerning when it’s time to go to the hospital. I don’t know what to expect from labour except probably pain and definitely hard work, so the less critical thinking I need to do in that situation the better. Taking labour as it comes means I can avoid the disappointment of arriving at the hospital only 2 cm dilated while also avoiding waiting too long and having to sit in the car through multiple contractions, suffering in agony. The hospital is close, but I have a feeling that in active labour it won’t feel that close.

Being at home also means that I’ll be guaranteed privacy and focused care. I will know every person who is present, and I will be the only labouring woman on the floor (probably the building, really). I have heard from tons of people that by the time it’s time to have the baby I will NOT care who is there and who sees what, but I have also heard and read that women in labour progress and cope better when they feel safe and comfortable, so why not labour where I feel most comfortable?

In addition to not having to worry about who is coming and going, being at home protects me from stress over pressure to have unnecessary interventions (because hospital staff expect I will want them or because I am put on an arbitrary timeline by hospital policy). Interventions all come with risks, and while most are relatively safe overall, there can still be consequences that many women are not aware of.

Epidurals are a very common intervention that women undergo during labour, but this is one thing I’d like to avoid if I can. It’s not even that I don’t think epidurals are safe, but I don’t think they are a free pass on pain, and I’m concerned that the pain relief they provide in the moment can have a cost in higher risk of subsequent interventions like Pitocin, episiotomy, or Cesarean delivery, increased risk of tearing, more difficult recovery, not to mention a bad reaction to the epidural itself (apparently some women get super nauseous or ringing ears or generally freaked out by epidurals after they are placed). Having an epidural also requires you to stay in bed to receive constant fetal monitoring, and this can cause labour to slow down or stall (hence the increased risk of other interventions). For anybody who wants an epidural, God bless you, but at this point they freak me out more than pain, so I’m in no rush to sign up for one.

Another reason I’ll be more comfortable at home than the hospital is that I can eat and drink and move around however I please throughout my labour. Did you know that first-time moms can burn as many calories in their labour as taking a 50-mile hike? Is there anybody in the world who would attempt that feat fuelled primarily by ice chips!? Now, I don’t think I’ll be mowing down a turkey sandwich while pushing, but snacking as long as I feel like it and drinking plenty of fluids certainly won’t hurt my energy levels. Neither Matt nor I will be limited by cafeteria options or hours or running out of change for the vending machine when it comes to food and drink during labour.

Most generally of all, I think I will feel more comfortable at home because of the overall environment. Our apartment is where I sleep, where I cook and eat and play games and hang laundry. I feel safe here. Sure the hallway smells weird sometimes, but it doesn’t smell like three surgeries and radiation treatment (how I spent many days in 2003), and it doesn’t smell like visiting people who are sick or dying. I don’t mind hospitals, but they are really meant for sick people. They smell like they smell because they are full of germs and need to be sterilized all the time. If my hallway smells funky, it’s because people from other cultures have made weird soup. But inside our door smells like home, and when it comes time to welcome our baby that’s just where I want to be.