Ironically, I encourage my doula families to take the time to write down their birth stories while it is still fresh and new in their memory.
Life has a way of getting ahead on you in the busy moments of tending to a newborn, chasing toddlers, caring for the young child and all the activities that having young teenagers bring. It is easy to say it will get done, tomorrow.
Almost twenty two years later, I am finally taking the time to do this for myself and to share the moment this little one made me a mama.
To be honest, I struggle with putting words to paper and it is not an easy task for me. I contemplated writing her story many times over the years, but with the busy years of homeschooling, working, running a midwifery and doula practice, getting certifications and managing a family, consumed me and the years went by. It's true what they say, years do go by quickly, almost in a blink of an eye.
We welcomed our first born daughter into our arms almost twenty two years ago on April 21, 1995 at 8:37 AM on a bright and beautiful Friday morning.
I remember the very moment of sitting in a cafe with my friend Michele, who had happened to be my maid of honour in my wedding a few months back. Michael had been talking about wanting to have a baby and I was contemplating, should we or should we wait.
We had been together for a few years and it seemed that it was the natural progression in our relationship together, but were we ready to become parents? Michele was against the idea and practical in her mindset of waiting until we were more established and secure.
Obviously, we threw caution to the wind excited to be parents, resorting to the fact we'd figure it out if it happened and decided to see what the universe provided for us.
Low and behold, we conceived shortly afterwards.
It was summer when we conceived. Strangely, my husband, Michael sensed I was pregnant, even before I really knew. I was still in denial, although the symptoms were definitely there and I knew, I wanted the extra reassurance at the first pregnancy test.
It has been interesting to me that for some families, when a new life begins another passes on.
Over the years of being a birth worker, I have witnessed this many times amongst many of the families I have attended. I am not sold on the fact that it is just coincidence.
Sadly, earlier on in my pregnancy, my father became quite ill and was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer with numerous tumours.
The time I spent with him in the hospital made me realize that I was not comfortable with the idea of having my baby being born there.
I remember the conversations Michael and I had discussing birth options and the anxiety I felt about being in the hospital with little control of who was present and what was being done to me, proceeded the idea of giving birth. A few weeks after getting pregnant, Michael ran into a friend of ours who recently had a home birth and raved about the care she received and her experience. We went over for dinner where she proceeded to share her birth photos and story with me, I knew instantly that this is what I wanted and moved on to finding our midwife to have our baby in the comfort of our own home.
It was 1995 in Calgary, Alberta. Midwifery was not regulated.
I called the only midwife available and chatted with her over the phone and immediately set up a consultation. At our visit, we both felt at ease and felt we were in good hands and proceeded to secure our home birth with her. At that time the fee was $1000.00. I was working as a nanny and taking care of an 86 year old senior who was mostly bedridden and working part time as a florist, Michael was working odd jobs in carpentry. Our finances were beyond tight, but thankfully we managed to pulled it all together.
My guess date was April 20 and I didn't give much thought to it.
I had stayed up late that evening watching T.V. I distinctly remember the ER episode, included a horrific childbirth scene and regretted my choice before strolling into bed at 11:00pm. Michael had to work late, he was putting in hardwood flooring for a client and wanted to get it completed before baby arrived, he strolled in around midnight. I remember this because just as he drifted off to sleep I was awoken by cramps, contractions started immediately after.
I tried going to sleep but couldn't. So I slipped quietly into the living room and called my mom. I wanted to share my excitement and nervousness with someone and I just wanted to hear her my mother's voice and get her reassurance.
I figured I would try to get through as much of labour as I could before waking Michael. I remember my midwives emphasizing that you never know how long labour could go on for, so I chose to let him sleep.
My friend, Michele mentioned I could call her at any hour and she would come by. I thought her company would help me. She arrived within a few minutes, I was in hands and knees moaning through the contractions. My back was beginning to ache. She placed her hands above my back and provided me with Reiki at the same time of the contraction.
Waves of nausea were rolling through me and the intensity increased, we had thought about going for a walk, but at that point I realized I just wanted to be left alone. I gently broke the news to Michele who understood. After she left, I decided to hop in the shower and this point the contractions were coming about every 5- 7 minutes or so it felt like, I was not in a state to time then, I didn't feel I was getting much of a break in between them and as soon as I gathered my thoughts another would seem to begin.
My tolerance of Michael sleeping was wearing thin,
I was becoming more annoyed that Michael was sleeping while I was in a great deal of discomfort and pain. I woke him up, demanding he get me some water. To this day he swears he leaped out and ran to the tap to get my glass of water, but to me it felt like an eternity of waiting.
I moved from the shower to our bed, my back was killing me and nothing was helping me. Waves of nausea returned and I regurgitated the last night's supper..
We had called the midwives earlier but they just disregarded my call and said to keep doing what I was doing. I remember feeling annoyed that they weren't coming.
By now it was about 5:00 AM in the morning of April 21. The wooden massage balls were firmly pressed behind my back as I sit on the toilet ramming my back deeper into the massager, "please go get your sledge hammer", I pleated with Michael, the tension in my back and bones were unbearable and I remember feeling like if only they would break apart, would I feel relief. He obviously refused my request, I crawled to the bedroom floor urging him to call the midwives again. This time they said they were on their way.
My primary midwife arrived at 6:00 AM. My contractions were every 2 minutes lasting about 45-65 seconds long in length at that time the records indicate that I was 4 cm dilated. and 90% effaced. I was already beginning to feel pressure and was urged not to give it any effort and to breathe as much as I could.
I remember feeling frustrated that no matter how hard I tried to control it, my body continued to bear down. At this point I was on all fours and the midwife was setting up and Michael was beginning to pump the pool up. I called for Wendy, but she most likely was on the phone with her second midwife Sharyne Fraser, Michael came in her place and attempted to breath with me. His tone threw me off and I had a hard time getting into it, for some reason when Wendy breathed with me, her voice became like a tunnel that I could move through and it was easier to breathe and centre myself.
Looking back I feel bad that Michael attempted to comfort me but obviously he didn't have the tools or resources to know how to help and ended up being the observer through most of it. I mostly didn't want to be touched or coddled, I just needed space to get down to my work.
It was comforting knowing he was there and that was enough at that time. To this day, he feels that although it was an honour to be there and of witness, the real work is that of the mother and women tending to women. I think he just felt out of his element.
7:00 AM Second midwife Sharyne Fraser arrives with coffee in hand. Wendy and her are in the living room setting up.
At 7:45 AM I was checked again and found now to be 7-8 cm dilated, the anterior part of the cervix was swollen. Thankfully that resolved quickly as I move into the tub which is situated in our living room. Michael sitting by the side of the tub, unsure how to help me. After my first contraction in the tub my water spontaneously breaks.
8:15 AM I am fully dilated and begin pushing spontaneously in the hands and knees position
8:30 AM Karen Robb, the student midwife walks in and comments how lovely it is to be able to eat and grab a coffee before coming and thanks me for the lovely morning birth. I move from hands and knees to laying against the birth wall. The contractions are like waves one after the other and I am getting little break. I recall looking at Michael and saying in a quick exhausted breath, " we are never doing this again" ( he calls this the Linda Blair pea soup moment, I call this transition)
With one huge push at 8:37 AM, Sara grabs the mirror to show my progress and without much thought, I push the whole baby out in one contraction. Michael and Wendy together surprisingly caught off guard, catch the baby and Michael brings her up to my chest. Everyone in the room, including my self remarked how quickly she arrived. I am completely overwhelmed with what just happened and catch my breath as Michael kisses my forehead and greets our little one.
I placed her in-between my legs and admired her perfect little body and face as she gleamed up at me and Michael. not knowing about the strong determined woman she would become.
We named her Arie McKenna and she weighed 6 pounds, 10 ounces.
I spent many days and nights looking into my sweet little baby's eyes and wondered what kind of person she would become, what she would be like, where would life take her and what passions and pursuits she would strive for, as she set forth on her own path. The intensity of knowing that I was just given the biggest gift in the world made me question my own ability to parent and be everything I wanted to be for her, a good mother, teacher and mentor for her, these thoughts would sometimes consume me. For the first time in my life looking at my daughter made me want to be the best I could be for her.
Along the way, as she grew and evolved into the person she was designed to be, we had our joys, giggles, challenges and struggles and many head butting moments of disagreement.
Many times I felt like I was failing as her mother as she has challenged me every step of the way, but through it all, she taught me so much about love and took me to my core, learning about myself, who I was and ultimately influenced my life for the better.
I am grateful for her and for the lessons I have learnt over the years.
There is one poem that I feel represents and reminds me of what being a parent is all about. I would like to share with you this wisdom, may it remind you that our children come through you, but are not you. .
On Children Kahlil Gibran
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
Sonya Duffee is the founding member of Full Circle Birth Collective and Full Circle Postpartum Care. She is the mother of two girls, who are now young adults and has been married to her amazing and supportive husband Michael of 22 years this May. She is also a CAPPA certified Labour and Postpartum Doula, Labour and Postpartum Doula Educator and certified childbirth educator, as well Hypno-Doula.