Written by Kristin
The Birth of Ember Ocean Johanna,
~An Undisturbed Birth Story~
I woke up around 3:30 am on Saturday Sept. 3 to pee and I felt a big trickle of liquid down my thigh. I was pretty sure it was a leak of amniotic fluid. I went back to bed and experienced a few contractions- probably 15-20 minutes apart and I knew labour was starting. I was giddy! I was 41 weeks and 3 days and I had been struggling that week to remain patient and trusting in the timing of my labour. In fact, the day before, I lit the birth candle that I received at my mother blessing, and had a little ceremony/prayer where I told baby that I was ready to go into labour and that it was safe for her to come. I also communicated with my body. It invoked a strong energetic shift!
I tried going back to sleep but I was too lit up. I felt big waves of shivers in my body-birth hormones beginning to kick off. By 6:30, still not having slept, I decided to just get up and start the day. I made a big pot of oat meal with berries, I took a jar of bone broth out of the freezer for after the birth, and made myself some tea. Everything else for the birth had been ready for weeks. I continued to feel the periodcramp-like contractions as I moved around. Around 8 or 9 I decided to try getting a bit more rest and headed back to bed. Jeff was just waking up then. I didn’t tell him right away. We chatted for a bit and then I finally said, “So...Jeff I think there’s going to be a baby today. I’m in early labour!” His response was rather neutral. I think it took him some time to realize it was actually happening, and not a false alarm. At some point later in the morning he started talking about the corn in our garden and how it needed to be harvested, and that maybe he’d do it tomorrow. “Jeff!” I said, “I’m in labour! You’re not going to be harvesting corn tomorrow!”
I managed to get another hour or so of sleep before some noise in the neighbourhood woke me up. I had some food and then headed out to the garden to do some weeding. It was a gorgeous late summer day, sunny but not too hot.
I knew it would be my last chance to do anything in the garden for a while and I wanted to tidy all the beds up. I thought the bending and squatting would be helpful for the labour though I knew baby was already pretty well engaged in my pelvis. The contractions still felt like period cramps at this point, I’m guessing around 10-15 min apart, and I was feeling high from the effects of the birth hormones. It was rather psychedelic! I saw a friend who’d been house-sitting for a few nights in our landmates’ cabin, along with a friend of hers. They are both mamas and celebrated with me that I was in labour. It was a sweet synchronicity that this friend was present that morning because she is the doula who I had first reached out to about supporting our birth. (But she wasn’t available for my birth time window.)
In the afternoon Jeff and I went on a long walk. We picked some of the last juicy blackberries of the season, and just chatted about life. On our way back, the contractions started picking up a bit. I had to pause every several minutes, occasionally holding onto Jeff’s shoulder while they passed. When we got home around 4 we decided to have an early dinner and Jeff threw together some yummy leftovers.
It was after that point that I began to experience a shift in my mood. I was being drawn more inward and needed to feel safe and contained. The surges were getting more intense and I was beginning to feel more challenged. I wrapped a moxa heat pack around my womb and that was comforting. I was experiencing an interesting contraction pattern that didn’t seem to fit the ‘text book’ early labour OR active labour pattern. They were getting intense, but were very short- lasting no longer than 30 seconds, and very close together- almost back to back at some points. I felt confused about where I was at in the big dance. (Later on, when I was in true active labour, they did settle into a more typical pattern.)
I started texting back and forth with our birth attendant/doula, Anabel, and she suggested that I was still probably in early labor and why not try to forget about it and see if I could get some rest. I doubted I’d be able to sleep or rest through the sensations but Jeff and I headed to bed- this would have probably been around 9 pm. I still had the moxa pack on my front and I decided to try the ‘TENS’ machine that a friend had lent me, which I attached on my low back. It was moderately helpful. I tried lying on my side, then switched to a hands and knees position with my arms and head resting on my pillow. I was uncomfortable and I knew labor was only intensifying, and wouldn’t slow down. I said to Jeff, “This isn’t working. I can’t rest”. I was feeling a little confused, not sure how to orient myself. I didn’t want to start filling the pool if it wasn’t time yet. But my need for more comfort was undeniable. Finally I told Jeff, “I want to be in the water.” He asked me if I wanted to call Anabel and I said yes. So he started blowing up the pool and filling it, and getting the large pots of water boiling on the stove. (We have a very small hot water tank and needed lots of extra hot water) Anabel arrived around 11:30. She entered the space with a calm, grounding energy and gave me a big hug, rubbing my back.
I said to Anabel, “I feel like such a baby! I don’t feel like a powerful birthing goddess at all! I don’t like this.” We laughed about that and chatted in between contractions, which she pointed out meant I wasn’t in active labour yet. Even though her and I had both taken the same doula training years prior, and many of the things she spoke to me were familiar, I did find that it was helpful to have someone calmly reflecting back to me in my birth process.
I got pretty nauseous and had to run to the toilet where I threw up my partly digested dinner. Once the pool was finally filled, I got in and Anabel said, “The water is always the test- it could slow your labour down. If it doesn’t- then you’re in active labour”. (And I’m thinking- but how could this not be active labor..) She went to the other room to nap on the couch and give me and Jeff some space. It was right around this point that I began moving deeper into labour- and the water definitely wasn’t slowing anything down, although it did offer me a lot of comfort.
At first I thought I wanted Jeff in the tub with me. But that didn’t feel right so I asked him to get out. I started needing to make a lot of noise cope through each contraction, and I was mostly on my knees leaning forward onto the edge of the pool. It’s impossible to describe the sensation of a contraction- and it’s even hard to remember now. The best way I can think of describing it would be like a tidal wave splitting boulders apart inside of me. I somehow thought this part would feel easier. That I would be able to stay anchored to myself- to be at the centre of it. I remember wanting to move away from the pain- up and out of my body.
I continued to throw up a number times, which Jeff helped me realize was because I kept gulping down my liquids. I didn’t want to get dehydrated. Once I started taking smaller sips, that took care of the problem.
The next few hours were a bit of a blur. I was already exhausted and I was regretting my eagerness that had started such an early day. I was beginning to fall asleep in between contractions and slipping in and out of a delta brain state. I remember saying to Jeff, “I just want a little break so I can sleep for a little bit.”
“I think that ship’s sailed love,” he gently replied.
I leaned back against the pool and focused on relaxing my body and having less resistance to the pain, which helped me sink deeper into the experience.
I needed to move- lots of back and forth motion with my head, sometimes I’d rhythmically hit the sides of the pool with my palms as the contractions peaked. I remember making loud ssshhhhhhh sounds. Jeff was often simply behind me, quietly holding my hands when I grabbed for his, or with a hand on my back. At one point, I was moving through a contraction with my eyes 3/4 closed and I felt his focused gaze on me. Abruptly I said, “Stop staring at me”. He couldn’t help but laugh because he could have sworn my eyes were closed and where was he supposed to be looking anyway?
Jeff’s presence with me was essential. The guy hardly had any time to eat or drink anything through the labor. There was a moment when he slipped into the kitchen to get a bite to eat, a contraction started coming on and I yelled his name until he reappeared. “I don’t know how anyone could possibly do this alone!” I said.
After being in the pool for a few hours I was sensing I was done with the water. I was also feeling the baby lower down as I was feeling the pressure in my rectum. I realized I hadn’t really peed yet through labor and I thought aloud, ‘I think I should try peeing. Right? That would be a good idea.’ After a successful visit to the toilet we went to the bedroom and Anabel followed.
I laid down on my side. I strapped the tens machine on again to see if it might help curb the sharpness if the contractions. The awkward and intense buzzing it gave off served as a mild distraction. I was feeling the urge to bear down pretty hard and push. This portion of the labor was probably the most emotional- but easier in some ways than active labor because I could ‘do something’- allowing that instinct to push and move with it brought a kind of relief.
I roared and grumbled and wailed through each contraction, often hitting and pounding the wall above the bed. I started shaking and shivering quite a bit. I just let it all out. I was no longer in that trancey watery place. I was an animal on dry land. Anabel would hold my top leg up during a contraction and Jeff had his hand on my back. I wasn’t even aware that I was still falling asleep in between contractions, but Anabel told me later that I went so completely still that she once actually checked if I was breathing!
I moved into a hands and knees position and baby continued to move lower. It’s exactly as they say: this part of labour feels like you’re taking a big shit! Then.. after a powerful surge and push I felt a huge pressure releasing. At first I thought- what was that?? Is the head out? But Anabel told me it was my waters breaking.
She shone a flashlight on the liquid to check it out. I asked if it looked ok. She said yes. (After the birth, she told me that there had been meconium in the fluid but she didn’t want to tell me in case it would bring up fear for me and stall the process. Everything was progressing so smoothly and quickly, and the meconium was light. It didn’t alarm her. It’s not uncommon for a baby at 41 and a half weeks to pass meconium in utero, as their digestive systems are maturing.)
She told me she was seeing my yoni opening and widening from the head coming down and encouraged me to put my hand inside and feel the head. I resisted doing this because it all felt like too much and I didn’t have the focus, at least not during a contraction. I did eventually put my fingers inside my vagina and all I could feel was a very soft squishy cervix- no baby head. But they will often move down during a contraction and then retract back a little. After that point it seemed likely that baby would probably be born soon, and I decided to get back into the water.
I don’t remember exactly how long it was then- maybe 15 or 20 min, before Ember was crowning. It was super intense and all I could focus on was getting that baby out as soon as possible because I wanted to be done! I don’t remember specifically feeling ‘the ring of fire’ as they say. But I could feel this huge bulge at my perineum. And then it happened - In one ferocious push her entire head was out of me. I was almost in shock! I reached down and felt her head- a slimy ball of hair. I felt so out of it and pretty out of body. Anabel had shone a light into the water to take a peek. I said “It’s a good head??” She said “Yes it’s a perfect head”. And then.. “Ok Kristin the body is going to come out in the next contraction and it’s going to be right here- you’re going to catch it”. I’m glad she did tell me that because it probably would have taken me a moment to realize what was even happening.
At 4:21 am, Ember’s body shot out of me, with her arms outstretched, and I pulled her up out of the water and held her to my chest. The room was dark but I could tell she had a great pink colour, and she was wailing from the moment she emerged from the water. I still felt so out of body- I was elated- but the more ‘lovey’ feelings I expected might be there in the moment I held my baby for the first time didn’t come till later. Though I knew that obviously babies cry when they’re born, I said, “It’s good that she’s crying?!” To which Anabel replied, “It’s great that she’s crying!”
“Hi!! Hello!!” I said to Ember, “You’re crying, you’re crying, aww yes it’s so good that you’re crying!” I can’t remember if it was by looking or feeling her bottom that we discovered her sex, but I hoisted her out of the water and I said, “It’s a girl!!” Jeff was behind me, watching everything, his head at my shoulder, tearing up and smiling and laughing in awe.
Anabel fetched a blanket to wrap round her and I brought her to my breast. Wow! Such strong suction! It was surprising. I was still getting contractions and I could have pushed my placenta out then and there but the water was cooling off a bit and it was a good time to move to the bed. They helped me out of the pool and it was tricky to coordinate my exhausted, shaky body with such a slippery baby in my arms.
Anabel arranged a bunch of towels on the bed and I layed Ember down beside me, latched on to my nipple, while I pushed my placenta out. It felt so good to just be done with it all! It was a beautiful big fat placenta. Later on we transferred it to a wooden bowl, and kept Ember attached to it for about 3 days before severing the dried up cord, which was almost ready to fall off in its own. It became too cumbersome for me to hold out for that.
In the dimly lit bedroom, flooded with oxytocin, we talked about the birth. “I was so loud!” I said. “I thought I would be more zen!” They laughed. “Kristin, no one is zen in birth. And you weren’t that loud. Trust me. I’ve heard women screaming through their labor. That wasn’t you”. Jeff reflected too that I did go into a pretty zen state for a bit when I was in the water.
We gave gratitude to Anabel for being there in the way she was. It was exactly what I wanted- totally hands off support by someone who I trusted to be a guide when needed.
Anabel cleaned up a bit and brought me some broth and snacks. As the sky was getting light, she said goodbye to us and then there we were. A family of 3. We tried to sleep, which was difficult. I think I may have napped for a total of an hour.
Ember was so peaceful. I kept staring at her, surprised at what she looked like. “We made a perfect baby Jeff! Jeff, she’s so pretty.”
We were both floating. The next 36 hours was one of the most divine and exquisite highs of my life, with that powerful cocktail of oxytocin and adrenalin still coursing through our systems. Jeff shared with me how he felt his ‘guardian’ instinct kicking in. He had never been so loving or attentive with me. He cleaned up the entire water birth scene- which entailed bailing out the bloodied (and slightly ‘shittied’, haha) birth pool water by hand since we didn’t have a way to drain it.
Later in the day Jeff was taking some photos of me and Ember, and he said, “Kristin, you look really good. Like really good. You don’t look tired at all.” I thought, yeah sure. But then he showed me the photo. “Oh my God, you’re right!” I exclaimed. “I look amazing!” My eyes looked huge! My face was absolutely glowing. We spent the day texting back and forth excitedly with friends and family, I managed to have a shower, and we tried napping while Ember dozed on and off and suckled contentedly at my breast.
It’s hard to know where exactly to end this birth story, because, as I discovered in the days and even weeks after, birth continues to unfold for much longer than the actual event. I could go on, but the rest belongs to: ‘The Postpartum Story’.