By Amy McKay
My birth story starts long before I ever became pregnant. It starts in my second year of nursing school, when I did a short placement in Labor & Delivery and saw for myself how over medicalized birth has become in our culture. I couldn’t wrap my head around why a normal and natural event was being treated as an emergency waiting to happen, and I knew deep down I could never be a part of that system.
After struggling with infertility and endometriosis I finally got pregnant in the fall of 2015. The same night those two little lines turned pink I went online and started emailing every midwifery practice I could find. Then I waited with bated breath. Two days later I was totally stunned and overjoyed to get an email notifying me that I had a midwife! My husband was very supportive. He was a little unsure when I said I wanted a home birth though, but he gave me the benefit of the doubt and then did his research. He was totally on board with the idea pretty fast. I absolutely loved being pregnant. Its such an amazing and transformative time, and I have never felt more beautiful, womanly, and happy in my own skin as I did while growing my baby.
My labor started in the middle of the night on July 4th 2016, 2 days before my due date. I’d been having strong and frequent Braxton Hicks for the past week and it was at the end of a big one at 1:50am that I lumbered out of bed. I took two steps and felt a gush. I woke my husband Warren: “I think my water just broke”. “What!” He jumped up out of bed, instantly alert & wide eyed. We were both excited but also surprised. Half an hour later real contractions began, and they were about 10-15 minutes apart for the rest of the night.
At 6am I sent my husband to pick up the TENs machine from our doula, Sonya. Sadly for us another of her clients was also in labor and had asked her to come, so there was a chance we’d need to use our back up doula. I finally got out of bed around 9am, with mixed emotions. Reluctance, because I knew it might be a long time before I could truly rest in my own cozy bed again and that there was a lot of work ahead of me. Excitement, because getting up felt like an acknowledgement that our Bean really was on his way and I was ready to get things moving.
I worked on some projects for a few hours, truly enjoying early labor, while my husband prepped the house for the birth. After lunch we went for a walk, but instead of strengthening my contractions petered right out. I was confused and disappointed when we got home, so I figured I’d go take a nap. I wasn’t in bed more than 15 minutes before the contractions picked right back up again, and felt more intense. I was in bed for an hour and in that time the contractions really increased in frequency, duration and intensity. Laying down was now too uncomfortable. We called my best friend to come over and when I got out of bed a contraction hit me so hard I doubled over and my head swam. I finally agreed to call the back up doula. I’d been holding out, hoping ours would be free but it wasn’t meant to be.
By 5pm all my people were with me and things were definitely feeling less exciting and much more serious. I was vocalizing through contractions and our doula could hear when things got more intense again, and declared it was time to call the midwife. I asked if it was too soon to get into the pool and was very happy to hear that it wasn’t. It felt heavenly! I quickly felt like I was coping again, and was really able to relax for awhile. My contractions continued increasing in intensity and I rotated through positions, trying to find some relief. Side lying. Hands and knees. Squatting. Forward leaning. I hated changing positions, it always brought on a contraction, and it was always stronger than the last.
At some point in the pool I declared I was done, and started to give up, mentally. Up till then I had felt confident in my body’s ability to birth, and confident in my ability to handle the process. I had doubts during contractions of course, but in between I would go right back to a place of positivity. My people offered sweet words of encouragement but it was going in one ear and out the other. I just couldn’t imagine going on like that much longer. I felt like I wasn’t fully surrendering to the process and to what my body needed to do but I just didn’t know how to let go. I had a little cry and felt like a failure for doing it but, bless her, our doula Mitzi told me crying was perfectly okay and to just let it out. So I did, then I pulled myself together and started noticing that contractions had spread out quite a bit. I felt my labor stalling, and decided it was time to leave the tub.
Later on I agreed to a cervical check, under the condition that our midwife Heather not tell me what my progress was. I knew I would be discouraged with any number other than 9 or 10cm. My cervix was very stretchy, but baby’s head was tilted to the side. Heather suggested side lying, walking stairs sideways, and lunges. I found out later that I was only 5-6cm at this point and that baby’s head was something called “ascynclitic”. This meant that his head wasn’t dilating me evenly. It also probably explains why I felt like labor was stalling out, while earlier I had felt consistent & increasing progression. Somewhere deep down, I had been feeling that something wasn’t going quite right. Learning about ascynclitism days later validated that feeling.
I laid in bed with the peanut ball between my knees and had the most intense and painful contractions yet. I begged everyone to let me get up. Heather asked for 5 contractions on each side before getting out of bed again, knowing that the increasing intensity was good and necessary. I squirmed and cried out and bounced my leg against the ball, anything to try to escape the sensations. Finally, I got up and did more stairs, sat on the toilet and the birth stool again and then got back into the pool.
Strong counter pressure on my back & hips was my saving grace. Everything ached. I couldn’t get comfortable and then my contractions started doubling up. No sooner would one peak than the next would be building on top of it. I started crying again, and saying that I couldn’t do it. I wanted desperately to escape my body. I was all out of confidence and beating myself up a bit in my head, for not being as strong as I thought I should be. I’m sure this made my perception of the pain much worse. I felt lost in a haze of pain, and pressure, and the knowledge that there was no escaping any of it. I didn’t say most of this out loud though, and my people continued to be so supportive of me.
Giving up on myself is my only regret with my birth experience. I was pretty miserable from that point on and I felt traumatized for awhile afterwards. I was so disappointed in myself. Labor did end, I did give birth, and I had accomplished what I’d set out to do - have an unmedicated home birth. Yet I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I had failed myself. Eventually, I started to see things differently. I cut myself some slack and let myself off the hook for not meeting my own expectations of being some superwoman who never lost confidence or had doubts about her capacity to birth. I actually hadn’t even realized that that was my expectation until afterwards when I felt I’d let myself down. Maybe I wasn’t a ray of sunshine in hard labor and maybe part of me did give up. So what? It doesn't make what I accomplished any less amazing. It took about a week before I felt empowered by my birth, rather than still reeling from it. Now I feel like a superhero, like there isn't anything I can’t do. I wish every woman could feel like that after giving birth, because every woman deserves to!
Heather checked me again and said my cervix was very stretchy and that with the next contraction she could push it out of the way and then I would be fully dilated. It hurt so much I asked her to stop, not really expecting that she would but just needing to say it. She stopped. A little later I let her try again. Finally, fully dilated. I kept expecting to feel an uncontrollable urge to push but never really did. I pushed and pushed and pushed anyways, trying every position suggested to me. I was totally convinced my stubborn child just didn't want to be born! I didn’t feel that my body and my baby were working together, or maybe I still hadn’t figured out how to fully surrender. I had expected the pushing phase to be easier then active labor, to feel relief that the end was near and finally be “doing something”. Apparently, I just had too many expectations of what labor was going to be like! I’m sure there’s a life lesson in there somewhere. I had to do all the work on my own because my baby’s head was still crooked.
Pushing was overwhelmingly intense; the pressure building up inside scared me. I heard Heather tell me not to run away from the pressure, not to fear it. It felt like my body was coming apart at the seams. It was just before midnight when a tiny bit of my baby’s head started to show. Our doula Sonya arrived at this point, finished with her other client’s birth. I looked into the mirror Heather had placed below me, watching that little patch of head appear and recede as I pushed. It felt like it was taking forever though so I looked away, leaned back into my husband’s arms and let him hold me up as I pushed down with every fibre of my being.
I was totally oblivious when the rest of my water broke and dark meconium poured out. Heather called EMS as backup, just in case. I wasn’t particularly worried about the mec, because it wasn’t my job to worry. My only job was pushing. The room always felt calm, nobody panicked. I saw the dining room table covered in emergency equipment, and I knew the midwives were capable of handling whatever might happen.
EMS arrived 4 minutes later and were ushered into the kitchen and out of the way. My baby was finally crowning and it felt simultaneously like it lasted an eternity and also passed in the blink of an eye. I was surprised out of my haze by people shouting at me to stop pushing as the head emerged. I looked down and felt shock mixed with overwhelming relief that it was nearly over. My baby’s eyes were wide open and staring back up at me as Heather looped the nuchal cord off the neck once, twice and a third time. It was wound tight, which definitely explains the mec at the end. The body followed and I could see that there was good muscle tone so I wasn't the slightest bit worried. It was 12:19am on July 5th. One day before my due date.
I felt an overwhelming and all consuming sense of relief, followed by disbelief that I was holding my baby, and then absolute joy & intense love. Then I noticed that our Bean was a she! I cried; she was so perfect. Bright eyed and alert. After the placenta came I laid down on the couch with my beautiful daughter in kangaroo care. She was still wide eyed and rooting around. We spent about 2 hours there together, soaking each other up. Warren was close behind me and so sweet about not rushing me for his turn to hold her. I really wanted that skin-to-skin time and he was wonderful to let me have as much as I wanted. It was blissful. I was so relaxed & happy, and still so relieved it was all over and she was safe in my arms. I was also still reeling over the fact that my Bean was a she! I had been fairly sure it was a boy in there. We named her Livia Marley.
Our doulas took care of cleaning up and before long it was impossible to tell a baby had just been born in our living room. I tried a few times to get up and into the shower but I was too dizzy and faint so instead Sonya & Heather sat me down and washed my legs with warm soapy water then tucked me into bed. I can’t even convey just how wonderful it was to be tended to with such warmth and compassion in my first few hours as a mother.
Totally transformative, earth shattering and life altering.
Welcoming our daughter in the privacy, safety, and comfort of our own home allowed us a gentle transition into parenthood. We felt cocooned in our happy little house for days after her birth, and our first venture out felt so scary, as if the world was suddenly a much more dangerous and unfriendly place. We also had phenomenal postpartum care from both Heather and Sonya. They are honestly the dream team! I felt supported in my physical and emotional recovery, had tremendous help getting breastfeeding off to a good start, and knew they were only ever a call away when questions came up. Livia’s birth was the hardest experience of my life and also the most rewarding. I am so proud of what I accomplished, and so incredibly thankful to have had the opportunity to bring her earthside on my own terms, in my own space, fully present for every moment, and surrounded only by the people of my choosing
Special thanks to past clients Amy Mckay for sharing her birth story with us and our viewers.