Not many people get to experience five miracles in their lifetime. But gratefully, our family did. Our fifth miracle happened on October 30th, 2003.
I knew I would be 'late', as I always am when it comes to estimating due dates and actually birthing. Though my babies are always one time, my guesses are always too early. I had told my midwife that this was what my body did, so we padded my due date in hopes to avoid the regulated mess that can occur when you get much past your 'due date' in British Columbia.
As I rounded the 40 week mark, it was of no surprise to me or my husband that nothing eventful happened. I had been experiencing nice warm-up tightenings for several weeks, but nothing that told me that birth as imminent.
Then on October 29th, I woke up at 4:30AM to some stronger and more consistent contractions. I lied there, letting these sensations rise and fall within me, and thought that it looked like today was to be the day! After a while, I decided I had better get a few things ready for the birth, that I hadn't taken time to do yet. I drug the birth pool out, brought down the birth supplies to the basement, and generally busied myself with housekeeping. It was a short while later that I realized that I hadn't felt any sensations for a while. I stopped my busy work and took some time to listen to what my body was saying. It confirmed to me that what I had been experiencing earlier in bed, I was no longer experiencing. The contractions had stopped. I decided I had better get back to bed to get some more sleep before the rest of the family woke up and my day was to begin.
During that rest of the day, I took a few long walks to try to rekindle labour, but to no avail. I could see how easy it would be to lose hope and feel frustrated with a labour that wouldn't build up in strength. But instead of succumbing to to those feelings, I made sure I kept my spirits up by remembering that the timing of this birth was completely out of my hands and that with or without my doing anything, this baby would be born when s/he was ready, and not a moment earlier.
The next day began the same way... awake at 4:30AM with contractions, but this time, instead of getting up and beginning the day, I stayed in bed and allowed myself to wonder and daydream about if today would be the day I would meet and hold my new baby. I drifted in and out of sleep, waking if a contraction was more powerful than usual.
The morning went on, and I sent Rich to work, the older boys to school, and decided to not wait and wonder all day long. I would know if labour was getting more serious, and would call everyone home if things got underway. It felt nice to go about my day, freeing myself from the watched pot syndrome.
Around noon, I decided to make an appointment with my chiropractor for an adjustment. The prelabour contractions were especially hurting my symphisys pubis, and my back was particularly achy. Rich got home to take me for the appointment and we all went to the office for 2:00PM. My contractions were just a bit more powerful at this point, but still nothing too serious. I received an adjustment and my pelvis felt a great deal better. When I had a contraction, I no longer felt like the baby was trying to push through the front of my pelvis.
On our way home, we ran a few small errands and arrived back just before 3:00PM. I found sitting on the birth ball helpful, but even more so, kneeling on the ground leaning over the birth ball. This really helped with the mounting back pressure. Two year old Emily liked watching and holding my hand and stroking my cheek. She was a wonderful little doula.
A little while later, I mentioned to Rich that maybe it would be a good time to start filling the tub, as I was beginning to feel the draw towards water. He was concerned that if this was still early labour, that the water get too cool before the birth. Instead, he suggested I have a shower. I stepped into the shower and let the warm water run all over me. It was a wonderful feeling. I tried all sorts of positions that kept my body open and upright, while letting the water pelt against my back. I stayed there for a long time, but started to think about the birth pool again. I didn't want to use up all the hot water in case I needed it sooner than later.
I got out of the shower, dried myself off, and went to the bedroom. I piled up a bunch of pillows on our bed and leaned over them. It was comfortable, but I still longed for the water. I called out to Rich that perhaps it was time to start filling the tub, after all. I was beginning to feel the sensations rise and fall higher and deeper than before.
We hooked up the hose to the sink and began filling the tub. Soon, the water level was just deep enough to get into the tub, though not deep enough to really submerge into. I knelt down in the water and swished my arms around. The water felt good, but because we had used hotter water to begin filling the tub with, the temperature wasn't quite right yet.
Around this time, Rich went out quickly to pick up the older boys from basketball. While he was away, I had decided to get out of the pool until the water cooled off a bit. I covered the top with blankets so as to keep most of the warmth in the water.
Rich arrived back around 4:30PM with Ryan and Michael, who were anxious to know if the baby had been born yet. They were disappointed to learn that there was no baby yet, but excited to see a swimming pool filling up INSIDE!
Labour was getting a bit more intense, so we called Rich's mother to come over and help make sure the children got some dinner, as well as to be with them while this birth experience unfolded.
While we waited for Gramma McCue to arrive, Rich and I discussed the idea of calling the midwife. I had felt comfortable with the idea of just birthing this baby without any extra help. But Rich felt differently, and didn't feel comfortable being there as the sole aid, if things varied too much from normal. I had to respect that, and also had the strong impression that all would be well regardless of whether our midwife came or not. So around 5:00PM, we called our midwife to let her know that it looked like we'd be having this baby tonight sometime. She was enroute to a client in Colwood, and we told her to go do her visit out there, and to call and check on us before she left there. We also made a call to Charlotte to let her know that now would be the time to come over and start videoing the labour and birth.
A few contractions later, as I rocked leaning over the birth ball, I started to really feel like labour was coming along efficiently and quickly. Rich watched me and began to wonder aloud if he should call our midwife again and have her come sooner. I reminded him that I had no way of knowing how long this labour would take, but things felt like they were moving along nicely. He took that as a cue that he should call our midwife again, and have her come straight here. It turned out that she was stuck in traffic but at a good point in her route to be able to turn around, so she changed her plans and headed over.
Shortly, Gramma McCue arrived. She came downstairs to see how we were labouring and, being the mother of 7, she saw a need she could assist with right away. Rich had recently broken both his arms and wasn't able to apply hard counterpressure on my back. So she came over and started to press on and massage my lower back. It felt absolutely wonderful. Unfortunately, she could only stay for a bit as the children were rallying for her attention, but it was so good while it lasted.
Charlotte arrived around 5:15PM with her video equipment. She quietly went about setting up her camera and generally tried to be background.
Our midwife arrived around 5:30PM and started bringing her equipment in, too. When everything was in, she knelt down beside me and asked how I was feeling. I let her know I was doing fine; just labouring along.
My sensations were rising and falling more steadily and with increasing intensity, by this point. I needed to focus for each contraction and people around me seemed to sense my need for quiet. We would be mid-conversation about something interesting, when a contraction would come on and then there would be a long pause, and a minute later, we'd pick up the conversation where we left off.
With labour progessing so steadily, our midwife asked if I was wanting to get back into the pool again. I was mildly hesitant, but after putting my hand in the water and feeling the more inviting warmth that had replaced the too hot temperature from before, I couldn't resist anymore. I climbed into the warm water and it felt heavenly. I had found comfort previously by kneeling and leaning over, so I assumed that same position in the water, leaning over the side of the tub.
I found my rhythm, and as our midwife assembled her equipment, and Charlotte videoed in the background, I rocked my pelvis through several more sensations. Rich provided as much counterpressure as he could, and before I knew it, I was feeling those gentle urges to push. They were quiet at first and hidden within a few of the first stage contractions. our midwife noticed and asked if it was time to call the secondary midwife. I mentioned that I thought we were moving into second stage labour here, but that I wasn't certain. Soon the sensations were completely powerful and removed all doubt, so our midwife called the secondary midwife. Sometime during this part of labour, my two oldest sons came down to witness labour. They left once when I got more vocal, but returned again soon after.
Second stage labour is never my favourite, and my birth team knew it, so they were ready to support me and let me know I needed to just keep relaxing and let go. I had learned a lot from my labour with Emily, about how to not hold back or interfear with my body's ability to birth my baby. So I tried to let the power run through me, and out.
A few contractions later, I checked myself to see if I could feel our baby's head. I couldn't feel anything and momentarily feared that this part of labour would take a long time. But I kept my hand on my vulva and was soon able to feel my body begin to open up to allow this baby to be born. A few contractions later, I felt the head crown and sneak away. Next contraction, the head came and stayed. I knelt bolt upright for the rest phase of that contraction, as the intense sensation of my tissues fanning out was all consuming. But with the next contraction, the head was born. I recall repeating a few times, in disbelief, that the head was out! It was quickly followed by some shoulders and the rest of this amazing little pink body. It was just a few minutes before 7:00PM.
I turned around and sat down to get my baby from the water. This little one was all tangled in the cord from her neck to her torso, and our midwife helped me figure out how to unravel her so I could cuddle her close.
I didn't notice at the time, but Rich's mom had come down with the younger two children, too. So they had all been able to witness their youngest sibling be born in natural, normal circumstances. This had really been a family event that I think will impact them and their views on positive birth, forever.
Michael was the first to notice that we had been blessed with another beautiful daughter, and let us know that our baby was a 'she'. I doubled checked, and sure enough, no penis! And I had been so sure we would have another boy, which should have been my tip off that this baby was to be a girl. I have guessed correctly only once in five pregnancies.
I cuddled her up, trying to keep most of her body warm in the water. Rich helped me take my bra up so she could nestle right into a breast. I tried to convince her to nurse right away, but she wasn't interested for the first few minutes. She had lots on her mind, and had been enjoying a good lusty cry as we tried to let her know she was safe and sound at home. Eventually she became interested in a feed.
Sometime around then, the secondary midwife arrived. She had missed the event, but that was okay. She was a wonderful midwife I'm sure, but she just hadn't been in the birth daydream I had envisioned.
Emily had made sure previous to the birth, that she would be allowed into the pool after the baby was born, so with the official okay, she undressed and hoped into the water with her mom and new baby sister. Matthew saw the opportunity to join in, but we decided that three in the tub was enough for now. And as it was, Emily was getting too bouncy in the pool, so was soon evicted.
I'm not sure how much time passed as we oogled our newest baby. We took pictures (editors note: ensure each camera people use to photograph baby can turn the flash off...) and generally gazed at this amazing little miracle. Someone brought down the birth day cake I had previously baked for the event, and after singing “Happy Birthday”, most of us had a piece of cake to celebrate.
About 45 minutes later, our midwife expressed a desire to have the placenta be born. I got onto all fours, with Jillian still nursing, and with some convincing, I was able to push the placenta out. At that point, the tub filled up with red from a gush of blood, and with the water cooling off, I decided to get out of the tub. Our midwife asked if we wanted to cut the umbilical cord or leave it intact. I had really found the lotus birthing practice interesting, but in the end, we decided that for our practical needs, we should probably cut the cord then. Rich did the cutting and then took our new baby while I got out of the tub and toweled off. our midwife helped me upstairs to our bedroom where I got on some warm clothes. We put some chux pads on the bed and I climbed in.
Our midwife asked if she could do the new baby exam at this point, as well as weigh her. All was well, of course, and Jillian weighed 8lbs. 4 oz. A perfect sized baby! Her brothers and sister took turns holding her, and staking claim over whose baby she was. When they had all had a turn, they got tucked into bed with promises for more turns to hold Jillian in the morning. At that point, Jillian and I nestled into bed together and got ready for some rest, while Rich sent out a quick email to family and friends sharing our good news, before joining us in bed.
The house cleared out shortly after that, and Rich and I had some quiet time to ourselves to look over our newest baby. She was so small and red, and perfect. We turned the lights off and went to sleep beside our little angel.
I woke up around 3:00 that night and found myself unable to go back to sleep. I think my endorphins were still in high gear, and I got out of bed so as not to disturb my fellow bed mates. I came out to the kitchen and began to digest the events of the last few hours. What an amazing birth! I had the hands-off birth I had been wanting, and felt my child be born with my own hands. I was the first to touch and hold my baby, in fact, no gloved hand had touched her at all. What a lovely, normal miracle.
So now we are a family of seven. It's a perfect number for us. And we're so glad Jillian is in our lives. We couldn't imagine life without her.
Jillian's Birth Video:
Other birth stories by Heather: