by Joni Leung
“I labour and birth with ease and joy, power and focus, in our home.” – my personal birth mantra
From the start, Mark and I knew we wanted to try for a home birth but had no idea if it was possible for us. We chose an online birth course (Debra Pascali Bonaro’s Pain to Power Childbirth) which helped to refine my intentions for our birth and gave me the confidence that wherever we birthed, it would be safe, as natural as possible and fully supported by Mark, our doula and midwives.
Eight days before our little one was expected to arrive, my contractions began shortly after going to bed. Once I was sure labour had started, I texted Morag (our amazing doula of Apple Blossom Families) to give her the heads up. The first few hours were exciting even though the contractions were intense and primarily felt in my back. Many of the comfort techniques we learn[ed] flooded into my mind and I quickly found the best approach was to allow the sensations to wash through me like a wave. A simple meditation mantra anchored my mind to facilitate this; when I felt a contraction approaching I would get as quiet and relaxed as possible so I could watch the sensation ARISE – ABIDE – DISSOLVE while Mark squeezed my hips or pressed on my back.
“ARISE – ABIDE – DISSOLVE”
In the few hours before dawn, my labour intensified before easing again by morning. We were tired and the extra time between contractions allowed us some much needed space to rest. Having spent most of the night on the couch, we relocated to our bed and laid side by side where I quickly settled into a pattern of falling into a deep sleep, waking right before a contraction began to signal Mark to press on my back or hips, and then falling right back asleep once the sensation subsided. At this point, a sense of timelessness set in. Things seemed to happen moment by moment as I felt comfortable trusting that my body, and my baby, knew how to progress on their own. I was OK with things happening at their pace and didn’t worry about whether we were progressing on “schedule”.
The sense of timelessness and ease allowed Mark and I to laugh, light candles, snack and enjoy the down time together. I had heard of ecstatic and orgasmic births, but was pleasantly surprised that most of our daytime labouring was like an extended (and, OK, intense and weird) date! The joy and connection we shared made it possible to endure the intensity of each contraction. However, I also hadn’t expected my contractions to be so painful right from the beginning. Thankfully, the pressure on my back was enough to help me keep my mind on my mantra, and the mantra did the rest. When Mark wasn’t able to press on my back, changing positions based on Morag’s suggestions, sitting in a hot bath or under the shower did the trick.
“There is a secret in our culture, and it’s not that birth is painful. It’s that women are strong.” – Laura Stavoe Harm
By dinner time, we had what I thought would be our last phone check in for the evening with Morag and our midwife on call since I assumed we would be labouring through the night and into the morning. Minutes after I got off the phone, my contractions intensified quickly and Mark sensed that things were reaching a new level. He called Morag to join us and when she arrived she sat with me while I was in the shower. After some observation, Morag asked if it was OK to call the midwives because I was sounding “pushy.” I sensed the force and direction of my contractions had shifted downwards but hadn’t realized this was pushing since it was completely involuntary. I had imagined pushing would require physical effort on my part but my body was doing all the work. I fully trusted in Morag’s instincts and experience, so she called the midwives to attend. Once the midwives were on their way, things began to speed up. I immediately wanted to get out of the shower and be closer to the bed. In the process of walking back to the bedroom, I had two strong contractions that made my body howl and push more. Once in bed, Morag applied the tens machine to my back but I could barely feel it. Keeping a quiet internal space minimized the pain as I was able to watch it from a different perspective where it felt like a lightning bolt of energy. The contractions and involuntary pushing were accelerating and I no longer had the chance to use the mantra as I had earlier. All I could do was stay as relaxed as possible and aware of the quickening rhythm of the waves.
I was absorbed in Morag’s guidance and the two extremes of my quiet internal space and the intense pushing contractions of the body. Single pointed. Deep breaths. Internal. Focused. Absorbed.
Morag then asked if I was ready to take my underwear off for a visual assessment of progress. The moment I took my underwear off, I heard her gasp, quickly pull out the home birth supplies and wake Mark who had been resting in the living room since she’d arrived. To everyone’s surprise, I was already birthing the bag of waters! She asked if we wanted to wait for the midwives to arrive or felt comfortable having Mark catch our Baby. I was ready and Mark was ready. And clearly Baby was ready too. With the next contraction, my bag of waters broke. Then Baby’s head crowned. Then Baby’s head was out! At this point, I could hear Morag behind me on her phone with the midwives who were knocking on our front door trying to get in. She was saying, “I can’t come to the door. The heads out. The heads out. I can’t…” After a momentary pause, I hear Morag running to the door and back just as I had one final push to release Baby completely into Mark’s hands. The midwives rushed through our bedroom door with their equipment a split second later.
After the first cries and some shuffling around, I found myself gazing at our new Baby face to face but I couldn’t quite see clearly yet. I was still in an altered, single pointedly internal state of mind from the birth. I couldn’t see his whole face at once, I could only focus on his nose and the first thing that came to mind was, “He’s got Mark’s nose. He must look like Mark.”
Morag and Kaylee and the other attending midwife coached us through birthing the placenta and immediate matters of care for Baby Noah and I. Everything was looking normal and good, and our team was very happy with how we were doing after the birth. Once the three of us were all cleaned up and tucked into bed, I looked around and saw my world had forever changed. Even our bedroom had transformed in some indescribable way.
I wouldn’t find out until the next day that from start to finish, I had pushed for 17 minutes. I was surprised at how timeless the entire experience was for me and at no point felt rushed or that things were going too slowly (26 hours of labour) or quickly (17 minutes of pushing). I was amazed at my body’s innate wisdom for birthing and grateful for the incredible support and care I was given through the entire process. Noah’s birth made me feel powerful and proud of what my body’s capacity as it was the most challenging physical task I had ever undertaken, yet most profoundly rewarding and transformative.
Thank you, Body! Thank you, Noah! Thank you, Mark. Morag. Kaylee, Yarra and Dawn. Thank you Debra for being such a positive contribution to our birth experience and for making such a difference in our lives, and the lives of many. Your work is so important for our world!