To be honest, I’ve debated whether or not to share my birth story through my blog. It’s such a personal part of my life. But I think it’s important to share the story of my empowered birth and the steps I took to create the positive birthing environment and experience that I craved. This is the type of story I wanted to hear during my pregnancy.
During pregnancy I heard stories about birth, about pain, about the ‘need’ for medication to numb the experience. No matter how often I made clear that I wanted to birth at home, I would hear the response, “you’ll be glad you went to the hospital.”
While there are definitely circumstances that require the use of a hospital and much more medical intervention than others, birth doesn’t have to be something to be feared. Research indicates that the majority of low-risk births can take place safely at home. I’m not ‘for’ or ‘against’ a hospital birth or interventions, but I am ‘for’ the option of informed choice and for women to choose what feels safest for them.
This choice disappeared when I moved back to my home province of NS when I was 6 months pregnant. I was unable to get the care of a midwife due to high demand and low supply in the province. In Canada, medically-assisted home-births can only take place with a midwife. Because of this, my dream of a home birth was off the table. I had to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t going to have a choice around WHERE I wanted to birth my baby.
Canada has to do better for women’s health and choices around birth. Talk to your MLA about this issue if you feel passionate about it, which is what I did during my third trimester.
I did a lot of research and meditation throughout pregnancy to “un-learn” the ideas and fear about birth that our society reinforces. If you’ve ever watched a birth portrayed in the media, there is always a lot of screaming, pain, and fear involved. Birth, for me, was nothing like it is usually portrayed.
Before getting pregnant, I had read about the theory surrounding “hypnobirthing”. This is the idea that the intensity of birth can be managed through the mind. Essentially, our internal dialogue about birth can be altered to create a peaceful environment where the birthing woman is put in charge to follow her intuition. Mother-directed pushing and meditative tracks are the cornerstone of hypnobirthing. My partner and I took the “hypnobabies” course in Vancouver to prepare both mind and body for the experience. This was helpful not just in birth, but for pregnancy in general.
Even though I was not able to get access to a midwife in NS, I was able to find an amazing doula (Jessie Harrold) who shared in my philosophy about birth. Jessie helped me to navigate the medical system and prepare for my birth in a way that made me feel empowered and in control. She helped me to plan for the unexpected and for how I wanted to FEEL during my birthing time, no matter what we encountered. This became very important as I struggled with unexpected news at 36 weeks…my baby was breech.
Turn Baby, Turn
When I first found out my baby was in the Frank breech position, I was shocked. I had done a lot of exercises during pregnancy to make sure my baby would be in the head-down position. Knowing what I know now, breech is a variation of normal that occurs in approximately 3-4% of all pregnancies and is not always something to be fearful of.
The issue is that breech is automatically considered dangerous for vaginal delivery. This is due to a study published in 2000, which concluded that C-section was the safer alternative to vaginal delivery in breech presentation. Due to this study, vaginal breech delivery essentially disappeared in Canada and throughout the world. Physicians lost the skill of breech delivery and c-section became the preferred option. There has been much debate surrounding the original study and there has been a revival of the discussion around this topic. Unfortunately, there is only 1 midwife in the country and only certain physicians who are confident in this type of birth, neither of which I had access to.
To deal with the news, I went to my hypnobirthing books to help guide me in my decision. I used Spinning Babies stretches, acupuncture and moxibustion, chiropractic adjustments (something I used all throughout my pregnancy), and listened to the Hypnobabies track, “Turn Baby Turn”, everyday. By week 37 my baby was still breech. Ideally, I needed more time for all of these interventions to work. My option was to hope that the physician on call when I went into labour was comfortable with vaginal breech delivery, or to do an External Cephalic Version (ECV), where the doctor turns the baby manually from the outside.
Since all of my other attempts didn’t work, I opted for the ECV. I chose this because I wanted the best possible chance of a vaginal birth and I trusted my OB. She had read the hypnobirthing book and was on-board with our birth preferences.
Our doula met us at the hospital for the ECV in case the procedure stimulated birth. I prepared by listening to my Hypnobabies track, which I also listened to during the version. When the procedure began, I told my baby that it was okay to turn and that it was time. Despite the less than 33% chance that the version would work, our baby turned successfully within a few minutes. We attributed the success to all of the preparation we had done beforehand. The version wasn’t painful.
After the version, I had some anxiety around the idea that my baby could turn back. After 10 days, we went for our 39 week OB appointment and learned that she had stayed head-down. It was now very unlikely that she would move before birth. I texted my doula and told her the good news and how I had not yet felt any signs of birth beginning and that we probably still had a while to wait…but I was wrong! Just a few short hours later, my birthing time began.
Élodie’s birth was 10 hours in total. It felt like time was both standing still and disappearing, but I remember it vividly. At 11 pm, as I was getting ready for bed, my water started to break. It wasn’t an intense gush, but more like a dribble that lasted for about 30 minutes. This was the first sign that something was happening. We called our doula to let her know and I decided that I would start my hypnobabies tracks and lay down in bed to get some rest…we thought that we were in for a long journey! About an hour later, I began having mild period-like cramps. This escalated quickly into active labour within 2 hours. Adam, my partner, was timing the “pressure waves” (the language given to “contractions” in hypnobirthing). They were coming every 1-2 minutes without a break. Generally, when they are this close together it is assumed that the baby is coming quickly. However, because Élodie had been turned by ECV, it was likely that birth was going to be a bit different for us. I moved from the bed to the birthing ball and bathroom all throughout this time. Our doula arrived at 1 am. At this point the pressure waves were becoming too intense for me to just walk around.
By 3 am I decided that it was time to head to the hospital. This would have been a great time to fill a birth tub and prepare for a home-birth scenario, but I had accepted that the hospital was our only choice (unless we wanted unassisted birth, aka “Free-birthing”) and so I was ready to make the journey there. Adam had prepped a birthing risotto (which I would devour post-birth) and all of our hospital food (we definitely spent more time prepping food than the hospital bag) and we were ready to leave.
I put on the hypnobabies track designed specifically for this journey to the hospital and we made the 20 minute drive in the middle of the night on August 20th. I remember thinking, “What day is it? This is going to be her birthday.” I held on to the fact that I was going to meet my daughter soon.
I knew that the hospital wasn’t going to be the calm setting we had created at home for birth, but I was not as prepared for the push-back we were going to receive on details of my birth plan.
Although we had discussed our plan to simulate a home-birth environment as much as possible in the hospital with our OB prior to birth, we quickly realized that we would have to advocate for everything we wanted each time a new nurse/physician entered our birthing space.
Thankfully I had an amazing doula and partner to advocate for me while I was busy turning inwards to use my intuition to birth my babe.
When we arrived I was only 1 cm dilated. My doula and I knew that I was in active labour and that dilation wasn’t a great indicator of where I was in the birthing process. I wasn’t allowed to be admitted yet, even though I couldn’t walk around comfortably anymore. We decided to stay in the early labour area where we had access to a room with a tub. I got into the tub for about 1-2 hours…it’s difficult to remember details at this point. The water didn’t bring as much relief as I had anticipated, likely because the tub wasn’t large enough. We weren’t allowed to have a birthing tub at the hospital.
I got out of the tub because the OB on call, who I had never met before, wanted to check dilation, make sure the baby was still head-down, and administer antibiotics for Group B Strep. * See my note on Group B strep and why I personally decided to decline antibiotics.
After the tub, I was 4 cm dilated and ready to be transferred to a birthing room. However, there were no rooms available yet! August was a busy month for birth!
The time after the tub until I was finally given a room is a blur to me. I was in the middle of transformation (the language given to transition in hypnobirthing) and was focused on my body. I don’t remember speaking to anyone during this time and I felt exhausted.
At 7:30 am we were finally given a birthing room. I remember seeing the sun as we were moved to the room and I knew that she was about to be born. As soon as I got to the room I knew I needed to push. The nurses thought that it was too early, but I was fully dilated and felt the urge to push, so Élodie and I began our pushing journey. I kneeled on the bed with my arms facing and leaning towards the back of the bed. This was the position that felt most comfortable for me. See this post on birth positions for a review of the evidence.
I pushed from about 8am until 9:11am when she emerged. That hour of pushing is also a blur. I know I had requested the Hypnobabies “pushing baby out” track and water to sip on. I also remember my doula telling me that my body wasn’t going to give me anything I couldn’t handle. This gave me the confidence I needed to focus.
The pressure waves felt different now. They were providing me with the energy I needed to push my baby out. Each one brought us closer together. I could feel her head pushing down and then coming back, making small increments of progress.
The OB who was going to oversee the birth came into the room and introduced himself. I think I remember saying “hi”, but that’s about as much of an introduction as we had. He was on-board with our birth plan and respectful of the fact that Adam wanted to catch our baby.
I remember giving a final push in-between pressure waves when I knew she was just within reach. Within seconds I was seeing my baby for the first time and we snuggled skin-to-skin with the umbilical cord attached for the first 5 minutes. I was calm and suddenly had a burst of energy. I had just gone through the most intense experience of my life, but it felt exactly as it was meant to.
She found my breast within the first 10 minutes and she has never looked back! We’ve been exclusively breastfeeding for over 5 months now and have relied on Dr. Jack Newman’s guidance along the way. I wish I had ready this book prior to giving birth! I thought breastfeeding would just come ‘naturally’, but it really is a learned skill. We’ve definitely found our groove over the last 5 months with a lot of trouble-shooting along the way!
We spent the golden hour after birth close together while I birthed the placenta using expectant management (aka no medical intervention).
After the first hour we went to our room to get to know our little girl and recover from the marathon event that we just experienced. We cuddled in our blissful state and I drank ALL the coconut water and ate ALL the risotto I could!
I didn’t tear during her birth and I recovered quickly. The transition into motherhood felt smooth (as smooth as can be expected for two people who know nothing about babies!) and we let our intuition guide us.I came away from my experience feeling empowered and that is exactly what I had worked so hard to achieve throughout my pregnancy.
Feeling empowered during birth was very important for me
Five months later I continue to let my intuition guide my parenting choices. We are having so much fun watching Élodie grow. It really does go by too fast! It’s almost time for her to start her journey with food and we couldn’t be more excited to teach her everything we’ve learned about holistic nutrition along the way.
- This is something that is tested for in late pregnancy (around 36 weeks) and can affect the chances of you being offered antibiotics during birth. This is a bacteria that can reside in the vaginal canal and potentially be passed to baby during birth.
- You can ask for testing earlier in the third trimester than is usually provided. If you test positive, you have more time to try the recommendations in “The Natural Pregnancy Book” before birth to reverse this outcome.
- Arm yourself with information on this topic so that you can make an informed choice and feel confident in your decision when it comes time to give birth.
- I tested positive and did not have time to reverse the presence of this bacteria before birth. However, my birth happened fast and my water didn’t break completely at the beginning. I was confident in my decision to decline antibiotics. For me, antibiotics come with the added risk of declining gut health and autoimmunity. This was the right choice for me, but everyone is different. Informed choice isn’t always a priority in pregnancy, especially for the health of the mother. This was something I had to advocate for fiercely throughout pregnancy and birth.