Sunday, April 12, 2015

18th September 2012

This post has been in the pipeline for over 2 years. I began writing down my (or is it 'his'?) birth story when Ignatius was 5 weeks old, and have added to it over the last few months (and years!) as I've found moments of quiet or inspiration. We have lots of new babies in our life at the moment - funny the way these things come in ebbs and flows - and with a little sibling for Ignatius due next month I've been thinking about birth again. I know that I benefited greatly from reading other positive birth stories, and being surrounded by beautiful and brave women who took me under their wing, so I feel like it is something I want to share as an encouragement to others. I remember one particular conversation with a friend-of-a-friend at a party just weeks before I gave birth, which more than just setting me completely at ease, actually made me excited about the prospect and challenge of giving birth. This friend had given birth at home and raved about the joy and empowerment she felt. This seemed so good and right and my testimony is much the same.

I do wonder if some of my friends and family would prefer I kept this kind of information to myself. And I go back and forwards about it myself too. Oh internet. So brilliant and so awfully bizarre at the same time.
Sharolyn pregnant 2
This was September the 17th at 41 weeks. I've just come back from a bike ride to return library books and post the last of my thank-you notes for gifts received at a little shower. On the right, here I am a couple of weeks earlier, feeling a little proud of the sourdough communion bread I baked. I love stripes.

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: I had a feeling that our baby would arrive late, though I don’t really like to say ‘late’ as due dates are pretty arbitrary anyhow. I knew our little one would come at just the right time. I have seen lots of women go past their official due date and start to go a little stir crazy. I wanted to have realistic expectations and be prepared for this. The mystery of the arrival was a wonderful thing. We knew we had a gift coming, and we were very excited about unwrapping it, but we had to wait for the timing of the ultimate Giver of Life. For the most part, I really loved being pregnant. The morning sickness however, did take me by surprise from about 6-14 weeks; I had naively assumed I would be immune to this. I didn’t vomit a lot, but the queasiness was fairly constant and I was very tired. Thankfully I was working in a classroom with 2 teachers, so I was able to sneak suddenly down the hall when the bathroom beckoned. I would come home at the end of the day, eat a little and be in bed by 7 or 8 o’clock most nights. Growing a baby is busy work, and I wanted to listen to what my body needed. After 14 weeks it was all smooth sailing.

I was as proud as punch when my tummy started to show and I wore it with pride wherever I went. It was quite a compact little shape, which made life easy. My friend and I used to joke about having long torsos, but it seems there is some truth in it, which means I had/have plenty of room for baby to grow. My fingers and toes never swelled and I rode my bike around right up until the day before I gave birth. My hair and skin was also the loveliest it’s been in years. I bought good quality, natural vitamins and I took fish oils too. I ate a healthy diet but broke a lot of the rules about what not to eat – in sensible moderation – raw honey, (very fresh) raw fish, a small glass of wine here and there near the end. We moved out of our community share house after a big year there, and into a little cottage just 10 houses down the alley way. We slept upstairs in the loft on a mezzanine floor, which was accessible by a ladder. It was only in the last week that I got tired of climbing up and down the ladder multiple times during the night to relieve my squished bladder that we relocated to the floor downstairs.

Every day past 38 weeks felt like an extra gift of ‘me’ time, and after finishing up teaching and running summer camps I relished these last weeks and days making a home in our new little place; reading novels (mostly catching up on all of the recent No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agencies Series - which always prompted me to drink rooibos and eat fruit cake), gardening, sewing, cooking, visiting, drinking more tea and riding to the farmers markets for vegetables and flowers - I absolutely fell in love with fall dahlias. Josh was starting to get impatient as he had agreed to keep working right up until the birth and was keen for his holiday to begin, and of course to meet his child.

A generous friend, Melanie, organised a meal roster for the first few weeks after baby was to be born. The first meal from Jen O (we have many wonderful Jens in our life) was due to arrive Monday the 17th of September - at a week past my due date there was a good chance we would be needing the meal. As there were no signs of movement however, instead of bringing us a meal, we were invited over to eat with Jen, Mel, Steve and Jeremiah. It was a lovely meal – a giant rolled pizza bread with salad, and dessert pie too. Toward the end of the evening our friend Farzan had come pounding on the door a little desperate, looking for someone to accompany him to the eye surgeon the following day. Josh decided he would take Farzan and go in to work a little late the next day. We enjoyed sitting around afterwards, leisurely chatting and then wandering back home, across Victoria Drive, and through the church parking lot to our little cottage, all of 200 metres away. We went to sleep on the floor downstairs, looking forward to the little sleep-in we would have with Josh’s later start to the work day.

I got a little carried away with these photos, but we so loved this little home, and as it is the setting of this story, perhaps they will enrich it. It does my heart good to see them.

opposite ends of the house
The white ladder in this first picture goes up to the loft.
The table was pushed aside and the birth pool was set up in the kitchen.
kitchen sink and oven
Some wheat from our harvest last year.

Tomatoes from our garden. 
change table and kitchen table
Our friend whipped up this study desk which became a perfect change table. And lovely brick chimney in the 2nd photo, only thing missing is an old-fashioned wood stove...
Bedroom - living room
Our couch folded into a futon where we slept in the lounge room for the week or so before and after birth.  The white door at the back of the first picture is the bathroom door.
backyardBlue September skies.

Maria and the gardenOne of our beautiful neighbours, Maria (we had 3 lovely neighbours called Maria) who hardly spoke a word of English, but would tap on our roof with a broom, and pass us offerings of freshly grown plums, beans and tomatoes across the fence. Ah the joys of an Italian neighbourhood.

Tuesday the 18th of September - at 40 weeks and 8 days - I had a 10am midwife appointment booked, at which we would probably discuss some ways to entice baby out naturally, in order to avoid being induced.

Sometime just after 5am I woke up with crampy feelings, like period pain. I tried to stay in bed but was too uncomfortable and we usually got up not long after this anyhow. I had been to the bathroom 3 times earlier that evening/morning to wee because of pressure on my bladder. I put my dressing gown on, heated my homemade lavender heat pack in the outside microwave (one of the charms of a small house - the microwave lived outside) and came back in to relax. At 5.38 I texted my sister Kirsty in Australia saying that I thought this was going to be the day. I didn't want to tell all of the family until it was more obviously underway. I knew that labours could go on for 24 hours or more and that contractions generally started slow and increased. I had planned to heed the advice of an author whose thinking I liked, and pour myself a (small) glass of wine to relax in the bathtub with, but at 5.30am this didn’t really seem appropriate. I thought a walk and one last leisurely breakfast at a cafe on Commercial Drive would be a good way to pass the time and distract myself. It soon became very apparent this was not going to happen.

Around 6am (11pm their time) I called mum and dad in Australia and told them that it was about to begin. I remember crouching on the floor as I spoke to dad as I was in some discomfort by this time and didn’t want to sit on the chair, but I wasn’t having intense contractions just yet and was able to converse without too much trouble. A lot of the detail from here on is a blur. I then felt contractions coming as sudden and intense cramps which would last a minute or so and ease off so that I would have relief for a few minutes. About this time Josh began running around the house trying to set things up for our planned home birth. I was absolutely no use to him. I curled up with the heat pack on the couch and rolled on the floor at times. I found the toilet comfortable to sit on even when I didn’t need to ‘go’. At one point sitting on the toilet and bracing myself I remember vividly wondering what I had gotten myself in to, wanting to do it all naturally. I was scared. The pain was already intense and I wondered how I would possibly cope for many more hours. I tried laying curled up in the bathtub under the hot stream of the shower which felt great, but I was conscious of not using too much hot water which would be needed to fill the inflatable pool. I went to lie down and realised I was soaking wet, so Josh kindly obeyed orders to wrap me in a towel.

At this stage I had some blood showing. I had been told to expect mucus or 'bloody show' but to call the midwives if a) contractions were coming close and fast - I can't remember the exact timing, b) my water broke or c) if I was bleeding blood- like a wound would bleed. We had tried fairly unsuccessfully up to this point to time a few contractions. I found the beginning and end was not obvious but they sort of tapered off. Josh was also pre-occupied trying to move the furniture around and pump up the pool we had hired for the occasion. Josh called the midwives and left a reluctant message saying that we really didn't want to be a nuisance by calling too early, but that it did seem I was bleeding and we had been instructed to phone.

Li phoned back a few minutes later, about 6.30am. She sounded like she had just woken up. She had just woken up. I felt bad saying that we didn't really know the timing of the contractions. I really didn't want to be wasting their time. Mid conversation I had a strong contraction and couldn't really speak. I puffed and wheezed and moaned. Li said that she would get ready and arrive in 40 minutes or so. She asked if I had had the urge to push yet. I hadn't. She said it was ok to hop in to the pool now if I wanted to. After hanging up I did feel the urge to push with the next contraction. I felt a pressure down near my bottom that I hadn't felt up to this point. I was reluctant to get in to the pool though. I had heard that getting in too early could slow down contractions and I still thought that I might have a whole day of this ahead of me. I stayed put on the bed until Li arrived, too uncomfortable to move. (So much for the bouncy ball and all of the fancy positions we learned in pre-natal classes, they all went right out the window!)

Josh continued to busy himself getting the house ready, he lit candles and put some gentle music on rotation. I found out afterwards that he had had quite a stressful time. We had imagined there would be plenty of time for us both to get the house set up and ready but that wasn't to be the case. The foot pump for the pool we had on loan was broken. So he had to hold the tear closed with one hand while pumping. The pool never got completely full of air, or if it did, it deflated part way along. Then there was trouble filling the pool with water as the hot water tank is quite small. Josh had borrowed the neighbours hose and attached it to the kitchen sink which helped fill the pool a small way. Next he got the kettles boiling. Ours and a 2nd one I had conveniently found in the alleyway a few days earlier (common Vancouver practice - giving away and discovering interesting things in alley ways). The electrical wiring in the house left a little to be desired, and having both kettles boiling at once tripped the fuse box switch. Up until this day Josh had been working 2 jobs, one Monday – Friday, and then helping some mates out most Saturdays and occasional Sundays too, making pizzas. We had only been living in the house a few weeks, and I had been the one to unpack things and set up home. Unbeknownst to Josh there were 2 fuse boxes in the house, one hiding in an unlikely cupboard.

Li arrived at around 7am. I was so pleased to see her in particular. We had met a number of lovely midwives through the midwifery clinic we were attending, but I remember feeling particularly comfortable with Li. She had a motherly way about her that made me feel safe. It really just depended when you went in to labour as to who would attend the birth. As it happened she had only had two hours sleep before we called as she had been at another home birth all night, for a couple and their little girl Annaleigh, who we met at clinic a few weeks later. Li checked to see how things were progressing and I was at 10cm dilation. I didn't expect this at all but it explained the intensity of the pain. I was ready to push! About this time I did hop in to the pool. Afterwards, a few days later, I remarked to Josh that it would have been nice for him to have hopped in the pool with me. He was a little upset when he explained that he had been, for over an hour, but I am sure there are many other details like this which I have forgotten. We also laughed afterwards about the sign on the side of the birthing pool with strict instructions exclaiming NO DIVING. He had humoured himself over this at the time he was blowing up the pool, but wasn’t sure if a labouring woman would have appreciated it.

I was in the pool for some time which felt nice. I think by this stage I was so much in the 'zone' that I was no longer scared. I was just doing, or letting my body do, what it needed to do. I remember having intense contractions and then being able to relax considerably in the breaks in between for a few minutes of lovely relief. It was comfortable lying on my back to relax, with my hair and ears submerged, but in order to be able to push better I needed to squat and hold on to handles on the inside of the tub. I do remember Josh playing a vital role during this part. I was breathing quickly and heavily and struggling for air and his simple reminders to 'breathe in, and breathe out' deeply, at a gentle pace, were exactly what I needed to refocus my breathing. Without fault I would go straight back in to rushed breathing with contractions and trying to recuperate after each one, so his constant reminder was a big help. Note to self: remember the importance of breathing for next time around.

A second midwife Corina arrived around 8.30am and she and Li took turns monitoring the baby’s heartbeat between contractions. It became obvious to me that they were a little concerned about the heart rate dropping (or was it speeding up, I can’t remember now?) during contractions, and taking longer than ideal to recover. Though they may have had some sense of the seriousness of this they were calm and never gave me any undue need to worry. I could tell however, that baby needed to be born soon. With contractions I pushed as hard as I thought I could, but I didn’t seem to be making much progress. It seemed that my bladder was full at this stage and was blocking the way to some extent. They needed me to wee. I had no qualms about weeing in the water I was in, but this was much harder than I could have imagined. I tried sniffing peppermint oil in a bowl of hot water at the recommendation of Corina, as this smell is meant to help relax you for urination, but I was unsuccessful with this simplest of tasks. I was then helped by all 3, on to the toilet in the next room. It must have been about 9.30, going on 10am by this stage. Again I felt comfort on this familiar seat. I have no recollection of weeing but with the next contraction the baby moved obviously downward and it seemed that this position might be what was needed for some extra oomph.

In order not to have the baby on the toilet, Josh sat on the edge of the bathtub and I sat on his knees. After a few more contractions the baby was showing. I was meant to push during the contractions, when my body was naturally also working at pushing, but I remember it being all blurry during this phase and I pushed long and hard and then took a deep breath and pushed long and hard again and a few more times to get the little one right out. My throat was getting coarse as I remember in retrospect the midwives instructions to push from down low and not from my throat. Pushing from my throat was loud but did little. Some of my best pushes were silent, as I really pushed from the inside. Corina lay absorbent pads under me and readied a whole pile of towels.

At 10.16am our little one came into the arms of the midwives who promptly passed him up on to my chest. He slithered out all slippery, it really is a funny sensation. It was such a wonderful feeling of relief and joy. I had expected to become a slobbering mess, but I remember being giddy and excitable saying something to the effect of ‘look, we have a baby, wow, wow, wow’, half giggling, half whimpering. We stayed sitting for 5 minutes or so, Joshua uncomfortably on the edge of the bathtub, I on his knee, our baby on my chest, taking it all in. Breathing. I flopped my head back and relaxed, the hardest work over. It wasn’t until a few minutes later that I turned bub over to see that it was a little boy. In retrospect this just seemed so natural, to have a son now. Not once have I ever thought since that moment, that I wished for a daughter instead. This little boy seemed the perfect fit for us.
freshly born - phone captured
Relief and Joy! I know these photos aren't at all glamorous, but I love them because they are so real. Taken on our low quality blackberry camera. Just look at that pointy little head.

I remember there being some talk between the midwives about their concern about the slowing heart rate, and later on when it was clear, before he had been birthed, that Ignatius had pooed and was covered in meconium, a sign of his distress. They may have even mentioned to one another the possible need to transfer me to the hospital if things didn’t speed up. I am very grateful in retrospect that I was allowed to begin and finish the birth at home. I am grateful that I had the health and strength and that the midwives had the courage to allow me to continue. I had wanted to do everything completely naturally, but I also wanted to be prepared to do whatever was necessary. After he was born, I was bleeding a lot. The midwives asked if it was ok to give me a shot of Oxytocin in order to deliver the placenta quickly and I was fine with this. I sat there, still on Josh, on the edge of the bathtub, holding our son. I can’t remember exactly how it happened but I hardly had to push and the placenta wobbled out.

When I eventually stood up I was amazed at how much blood and guts lay under me. I was wobbly. I went back into the lounge room and lay on the bed where I was stitched up. I had a minor tear but this wasn't painful and healed quickly. I have no idea what happened to my waters. I don’t remember them ever breaking, or the midwives ever talking about breaking them, so I can only imagine they broke while I was in the pool. Corina took some photos on our phone (those above) and later we found my camera too and she took a few more. Those two early ones, before we are cleaned up are my most favourite as true records of an amazing day.

By 11 or so we were on our own. I had fed Ignatius (named by this stage) and he had been weighed and cleaned up a little. It was so strange to lie back in bed, just 6 hours after waking up, but this time next to my son. Josh and I both looked at each other, not quite knowing what to do. Champagne and cheese was in order and we skyped with family and emailed and texted friends.

Sharolyn pregnant 2 Iggy  At just a few days old it is a marvel that this boy was once inside me. More newborn pics here.

I have so much gratitude and respect for midwives and can't recommend the Commercial Drive Midwives highly enough. Li and Corina worked like paramedics, taking heart rates, recording data and probably running on adrenaline for a couple of intense hours. I don’t think I could do their job, but I feel like it is such a worthy career for anybody inclined. After our 6 weeks of postpartum check-ups I was sad to say goodbye to the women who helped bring Ignatius into this world. I can’t say enough good things about my experience of home birth. And even as a non-Canadian, it was fully funded. Unfortunately, now we are in Australia, our choice is between $3000-$5000 for a home birth or the public hospital system which is free. I know that our system is incredible compared with so many other places, and I am grateful for the opportunity to birth in a home-like setting at the Birth Centre here in Brisbane, but it will be strange to have to pack a hospital bag and jump in the car midway through contractions this time around as the fees are just too high for us right now. The fact that I had so much choice surrounding birth really was a gift. I do hope that Australia can take some cues from the British Columbian system in this way.

A dear friend remarked to us that she had been a little wary of home births, as I think many are. In observing the ease of our transition from life as 2, to life as 3, which happened in a matter of hours, in a place we felt safe and comfortable, she could see great value in it.

Prior to giving birth I had wondered about how I would have my hair during the labour, and whether I would put make up on to make myself feel good if I had time during early labour - and for the first photos with baby of course - I wanted to be looking my best. How trivial these things seem in reflection! It was very early on, before Li had arrived that I had torn my clothes off and I remained naked without a care for the entire process. My hair was however I woke up with it looking, and my face never saw any make up. A good introduction to parenthood perhaps. Needless to say Josh did not take Farzan to the eye surgeon that morning, neither did he arrive for work, but both parties were very understanding. Though it was sad to be away from our Australian families at this time, our Vancouver community were absolutely amazing and we lacked nothing at all. People we had only met briefly or passed 'hello's' with at church bought us delicious home cooked food. What a gift it was, to not only be nourished with good food, but with generous new (and many old) friends. It really was a community event!
_DSC0002The board at our local midwife clinic. Ignatius is written in green for the 18th of September with a little house picture to represent a home birth.  

Although people often commented throughout my pregnancy on how small my tummy grew, Ignatius was a healthy size at around 7 pounds 3 ounces (3300g). He took to breast feeding well and put on weight at an alarming rate. I have always loved cream and joked that I was feeding him rich, delicious, fatty cream instead of the usual breast milk. I am reminded as I read over this again, of how wonderfully smoothly things have gone and continue to go for me and Ignatius and Joshua. It feels as though everything that could go right in our journey from pregnancy to parenthood with Ignatius, did so. So much of this was completely beyond my control. And so I don’t quite know how to handle that. This abundant grace. The abundance of goodness in my life. I can only think that the best thing to do is to live gratefully and humbly and to give glory to God.

In 2013 when we began the journey of pregnancy again we were jolted out of our comfort, and though it was a terribly difficult grief to lose our second child, I am grateful for the journey. In September of 2014, last year, shortly after the death of a close friend, Brett, when my period was late and the pregnancy test showed up positively, we took it slowly. I carried the gift lightly. I prayed and listened and sang this song over and over again. I longed to meet this child, and friends shared this burden with us through prayer. I was no longer naive and yet I found some peace, knowing that it was all out of our control. There is perhaps some sadness in this lost innocence, lost naivety - a realisation of the painfulness of real life, but overall it has been a gift to realise that life is out of our hands. All life is a gift to be treasured and held lightly. 

We are excited to meet our new little person toward the end of May, or, if they're very comfortable inside, most definitely by June. I know that every birth is different, and though I share this experience, I am open to however things unfold. Following Ignatius' birth, the words of the psalmist came to mind: "I am fearfully and wonderfully made". How incredible that we as women are privileged to carry life from conception to birth, to be a sacred vessel bringing new life forth in to the world. Truly it is a miracle and a gift and a testament to our marvellous Creator God.