**Disclaimer: These photos contain some nudity. If this makes you uncomfortable, kindly close the page and move on! Also, I apologize that this is LONG. There are so many details I want to share, and remember.
I gave birth to my first daughter, Taija, by planned caesarean birth.(Read her birth story here) Because of this, midwifery guidelines state that in order to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) at home, you must be within 30 minutes of a hospital with a surgical team on staff at all times in case of transfer. In Squamish, our hospital is not capable of this, so I needed to be closer to Lion’s Gate hospital in Vancouver. After spending many, many hours looking up vacation rental suites, hotels, and talking to other doulas trying to find a place to have a “home birth” we decided that a hotel room would be the easiest place. I gathered all my birth supplies and kept them in a blue Rubbermaid bin, ready to be packed into the car at a moments’ notice.
Though I didn’t fully realize it until almost a week later, my birthing time began on a Monday. March 2nd, 2015. I began having contractions in the night, and though they weren’t painful the sensation was enough to keep me awake and prompt me to time them. They were around 7 minutes apart and 30-40 seconds each. After being awake all night, I was exhausted. Tuesday morning I woke with Taija, and by the time we’d had breakfast the contractions had stopped completely. I didn’t think much of it, and brushed it off as pre-labour. Taija was having a rough morning, and I remember sitting on the birth ball with her, bouncing and rocking. I was so exhausted from not sleeping well, I almost fell asleep right there with her in my arms.I saw the midwife that morning, and she told me it sounded like my body was starting to get ready, but cautioned me that it could still be days or even weeks. Wanting to keep distracted, I took Taija for a nice long walk. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we played at the park together. I was aware of some cramping, but it wasn’t painful. I took a lot of photos and tried to soak in as much of my sweet girl as I could, knowing it would likely be one of the last times it was just the two of us.
Wednesday night came, and with it more contractions- this time every 9 minutes or so. They continued through the night and again, I couldn’t sleep through them. I dozed in between but was aware that my body was starting to work. Through the day, they subsided again and I was beginning to wonder whether this was truly early labour, or simply a practice run. I was only 39 weeks, and had fully expected to go past my due date. I texted my doula Kaz, to check in because I was feeling the sensation very low down in my cervix, and right in front of my stomach where my caesarean birth scar is. I was feeling a bit worried as I had expected to feel them through my whole belly and wanted to make sure nothing was wrong. She reassured me that it was normal, even for mamas who hadn’t given birth by caesarean. I took a bath, hoping things would settle down enough to sleep.
Finally on Thursday, the contractions didn’t stop in the morning when I woke up. They were further apart and less intense, but showed no signs of stopping which led me to believe that I was in finally in early labour. Knowing as a doula that early labour can last a long time (days, weeks…) I didn’t get too excited about it and continued on with my day, while focusing on rest/nutrition/hydration. My husband Nick was scheduled to go away for the weekend to interview for a Masters of Physiotherapy program in Winnipeg. It was not something that could be rescheduled. The sensations were becoming more painful, but were short. I still didn’t think I was nearing active labour (looking back I was absolutely in denial!), but decided we should look at making some changes to his travel plans. I sat on my birth ball, googling hotel rooms and looking up flight itineraries. After chatting with Kaz, we decided to book him on an earlier flight home, so that he would arrive Saturday evening instead of Sunday night. I was still optimistic that I would not give birth while he was away. Sensations continued overnight Thursday, so I took some gravol and tried to doze between them as much as I could, which wasn’t much. I timed a few contractions and they were averaging 6 minutes apart, still less than a minute each. Even though in retrospect, sensations were getting longer, stronger, and closer together I still didn’t really realize that I was nearing active labour. I think knowing that Nick was going away was a huge emotional block for me. I just couldn’t believe that I was really going into labour with him gone, so mentally I pretended it wasn’t happening.
Nick left early Friday morning. Normally Taija would attend daycare on Fridays, but she had had a fever on Thursday and needed to stay home. We had prepared her well for labour and birth, reading stories and watching videos. As I breathed and swayed through contractions, she would sweetly ask “Are you having a traction, mommy?” At this point, I knew we would be heading to Vancouver sometime in the next few days. I also knew that I could no longer drive, so I texted my sister Katia and asked her to pick me up some groceries- birth food! She stayed over and helped get things ready and take care of Taija. I had intended to have a nap, but by the time she came over I really had to breathe through the contractions and it was clear that I wasn’t going to be sleeping anytime soon. At 2pm, I texted Kaz. I was debating whether or not to book a room for that night. Again, the emotional block: looking back at the pattern of my contractions, I know that I was starting to get into active labour. But at the time, I didn’t see or believe it. I was worried that if I went to the hotel room, I would spend days there before active labour really hit. I decided to wait it out a bit longer. I figured that I needed rest, and the best place for that would be my own bed.
I was focusing enough on the sensations now that I knew I wasn’t going to be able to put Taija to sleep. I couldn’t even pick her up because it would bring on a contraction. Nick’s mom, Deb, to the rescue! She gave Taija a bath while I laid in bed with my TENS machine. Deb brought Taija in to me, and she snuggled up and fell asleep without any stories or interaction. She seemed to understand that I needed to rest. I was focusing on my contractions but I do remember her sweet little arms wrapping around my neck as she fell asleep. After an hour or two, I could no longer lay down. I could not lie down, bend forward, or squat without “bringing on” a contraction and I really felt like I needed counter pressure on my tailbone to get through each one. Taija was sleeping happily in bed, while I tried to sit backwards on a kitchen chair, with a pillow to rest my head on. At the start of each contraction I would lean back and press my tailbone into the chair, and then try to rest again between. After a while, I texted Kaz again to check in. She suggested I take a bath, to see if things would slow enough for me to rest. I took the baby monitor with me, as Taija was still sleeping, and got in the tub. It felt so good to be in water, but with each contraction I tried to find a comfortable position, which was hard. It was almost unbearable to have my legs closed during contractions, which was quite difficult for a pregnant lady in a bathtub! I think I dozed a bit on and off. I remember grabbing my tank top off the floor and putting it behind my head as a pillow. The thought of getting out of the tub to get something more suitable, like a towel, was simply too much. By midnight, I was toning (moaning) with each contraction and they were close enough together that I knew there was no need to time them- active labor had arrived. I called my sister and birth photographer, Katia, to come over and get things ready to go and then booked a hotel room. I hoped and prayed I would not have a contraction while I was on the phone with the hotel, as I had no intention of telling them I’d be giving birth there! At 12:32, I texted Kaz and told her we were heading to the city, but I didn’t think she needed to come right away. She called to see how I was doing, and I think I had a few contractions while we were on the phone. I told her to leave maybe 30-40 minutes after us. My sister arrived, and I had her go upstairs to wake Deb up, so she could go in and sleep with Taija. I said I was going to stay in the bath until everything was packed into the car and then I would just get out and go. Ha, yeah right! I got out of the bath, and that was pretty much it. As soon as I stood up, the contractions were so much more intense. I laboured on the toilet for a while, and eventually made my way back to the bedroom to try and get dressed. Once I was upright, my desire for counterpressure on my back was strong again. Each contraction brought me to sit and rock, pushing my tailbone into a kitchen chair as hard as I could. It took me over 35 minutes to get dressed, and put my TENS machine back on. When it came time to put socks on, I couldn’t do it myself. Katia clumsily tried to put them on for me, but I think in the end we gave up. The contractions were so intense, I realized there was no way I would be able to cope with them while sitting on a soft, cushy car seat. For a brief moment, the thought crossed my mind that I could bring a hard book to sit on so that I could still press my tailbone down as I had been doing with the kitchen chair. About 10 seconds after that thought, I decided I was NOT going anywhere. At 1:55am, I had Katia call Kaz and tell her to come over, because there was no way in hell I was getting the car to go to Vancouver.
I texted Nick, who was in Winnipeg, and said “fuck this, homebirth in Squamish!” and then called him shortly after that. It was around 2:00am, but I wanted him to know that I’d decided to stay home and that everything was going fine. At some point I had a contraction while on the phone, and I put it down… and then forgot he was on the line! Oops!
When Kaz arrived, I told her the plan: I was not getting in the car. I was coping well at home, and in my mind, laboring in the car was simply not an option. Especially since I get severely carsick. My contractions were still around 5 minutes apart, so it was not yet time to call the midwives. Prenatally, I had been told to call at "3-2-1" (contractions every 3 minutes, 1 minute long, for 2 hours). I had expressed worry that if I waited that long, I would not want to go to Vancouver. The midwife had said it was better to get checked at home before heading to the city, than to go too early and spend days there. My body had other plans! Already, I had waited too long, and now I was in the throes of labour. I truly believe there is nothing anyone could have said that would have made me leave my home. Kaz supported my choice, though she did let me know that the midwives would likely suggest a transfer. Soon after, I remember begging Kaz and Katia to set up the birth pool. I remembered what it was like to be in the bathtub, and I could NOT wait to be in water again. Kaz later told me that she had thought it was too early to get in the pool, but I'm glad she listened to me because Zephyra was born only 2 hours later. My legs began to shake, and I looked for reassurance. Kaz reminded me that it was totally normal and I was doing great. I went to the washroom and laboured again on the toilet for a while, this time seeing more bloody show. I had a moment of panic, thinking “oh shit, if I’m just having bloody show NOW, maybe things aren’t progressing as fast as I’d hoped.” I tried to just let it go, and focus on riding out each contraction.
There was a flurry of activity in the house as Kaz and Katia got everything set up. It turns out the tap adapter I had bought didn’t quite work, and they’d had to use duct tape in addition to boiling pots of water on the stove to fill the pool faster. At some point, as I laboured on the toilet with the door wide open, it occurred to me that I was probably making enough noise to wake up the whole house (we live in a basement suite with in laws upstairs and sister in law next door). I hoped everyone was fast asleep, but didn’t care enough to stop moaning through the contractions. Kaz came to the washroom to check on me. She sat in front of me, on the tub, and put her hand on my knee. Immediately, I said “please don’t touch” and I distinctly remember how foreign, distracting, and irritating her touch had been. I’m sure she meant well!
Finally, around 4:15am the birth pool was almost ready. I laboured on the birth ball with my TENS machine while I waited. I was exhausted at this point, dozing between contractions even though I was sitting up. Every once in a while, Kaz would gently put her hands on my shoulders, to remind me to relax during contractions. This time, I appreciated the warming touch.
When it was time to get in the pool, I stood up and immediately had a strong contraction. Kaz held me up while I swayed through it. I stepped into the pool and had another contraction, which brought me to my knees leaning against the side of the pool. This was a comfortable position, and honestly the thought of moving was not a pleasant one, so I stayed that way for quite some time.
Katia began setting up some of my birth visualizations and candles, but I was so far inside myself that I didn’t even look at them. She asked if I wanted some music on, and I agreed- but then promptly told her to turn it off. I was in “labor land” and did not want anything to pull my focus.
It was at this point that I started having doubts, though I never voiced them. Each time I felt a contraction build, I would think “no, not another one! Not again! I can’t do this much longer.” I recognize now that I was probably in transition. Not long after those thoughts, I began involuntarily “grunting” in the middle of each contraction. Not pushing per se, but my body was starting to turn in on itself. I told Kaz I felt like I was pushing and she reassured me that I was only “feeling pushy” and that I would know when the real time to push came. She told me that since I was feeling pushy, it was likely a good time to call the midwives. I consented, and she spoke to the midwife over the phone.
It was Nicole, a midwife from the city whom I’d never met before. She was covering for the local midwife. Anna, a 4th year midwifery student would be the 2nd attendant. Nicole said that she wasn't going to rush over, as it was my first baby and we likely still had some time. She told Kaz to let her know if things changed.
I changed positions in the pool when I started feeling really pushy and needed some counterpressure on my tailbone. Kaz talked to Nicole and let her know that I was feeling more pressure and was getting ready to push. It was another hour or so before she arrived. Shortly before Nicole got there, I decided to do a vaginal check to give myself an idea of where we were at. I was VERY happy to find that I could feel her head just inside the vaginal opening.
Soon Nicole and Anna arrived. Nicole gave me a fairly stern warning: “You are birthing outside of our community standards. I need to recommend that you go to Vancouver. There is a small, but serious risk of uterine rupture which could lead to the death of you or your baby. Do you accept that risk?” Without hesitation, I said “yes, I’m not going anywhere.” My instincts had taken over a long time before that, and I knew without a doubt that my body was doing fine.
At some point, Kaz went into the bedroom and got Taija. We had prepared her well and really wanted her to be there for the birth. I was so happy to see my sweet girl. She was amazing, staring at me in awe and helping to give me sips of water.
I was really feeling the urge to push now, but Nicole wanted to do a cervical check. I could have said no, but at this point I figured it couldn’t hurt. I knew everything was going fine and if it pleased the midwives to know that I was fully dilated, then that was a good thing. Of course, the baby’s head was already so low that I KNEW I was fully. It only took a second for Nicole to agree. I asked, “can I push now?” and was very relieved when she said yes. Pushing felt SO GOOD! I mean, it hurt, but it brought some welcome relief with each contraction, and it was amazing feeling the progress of the head moving down. Right before crowning, I could feel her head push under my pubic bone, and then slip back again when the contraction was over. I was grabbing onto a fold in the pool liner, using it for leverage. Each push got her head a little bit further, until finally I felt a “pop” as her head settled below the pubic bone. I was so excited, she was almost here!
When the head was crowning, Kaz was an amazing help. She reminded me that what I was feeling was healthy and normal. Her verbal cues to “let the sensation be there” were exactly what I needed to hear. Nicole suggested that I support my perineum, so I reached down and put gentle pressure against my baby’s head. It was uncomfortable to reach though, and soon I stopped and let her take over. Once the head was out, I reached down to touch my baby. I will never forget that feeling. I rubbed my hand back and forth, feeling her wrinkly scalp and soft hair.
Waiting for the next contraction so I could push my baby out, I was solely focused on connecting with the tiny being that was about to be born. Nicole said “get ready to catch your baby” and I reached down just as her body had been born. The next few minutes are a blur. Time stopped. I could not believe what had just happened. I gave birth! I had a successful VBAC! In my living room!! Zephyra was born in exactly the place that I had dreamed of giving birth to Taija, before I had her by caesarean. I lifted her up onto my chest, and felt a sharp pull as her umbilical cord was very short. I moved her down lower on my belly and spent the next few minutes just taking her in.
I had declined the shot of oxytocin, so we waited patiently for the placenta to be born. Once it was out, we realized that the umbilical cord had actually been torn when I lifted her onto my chest. We cut the cord. In hindsight, I would have liked to keep it intact much longer, as the clamping was only delayed by about 10 minutes, but at that moment I had no concept of time and consented to having it cut.
As I got out of the birth pool, Taija immediately came to me and wanted to hold the baby. Once I was snuggled in on the couch, she climbed right up to see. She was SO in love with her baby sister. I will never forget those first few moments, with both of my sweet girls. I was in shock. Blissful shock, I couldn’t believe this was all really happening! I would be lying if I said I wasn’t sad that Nick wasn’t there, but I truly believe things happened the way they were meant to. Maybe this was something I needed to do on my own. Once I was sure Nick would be finished with his interview, I called him. He didn’t answer, so I texted him (probably a thousand times) telling him to video call me ASAP.
Kaz made me a delicious breakfast, and I finally got ahold of Nick. He got his first look at his new daughter while sitting in Starbucks 3 provinces away. He was scheduled to fly home later that evening and I could NOT wait to see him!
Once the baby (she would be nameless for a few more days) had been weighed and everything was cleaned up, it was time for me to rest. Deb took Taija out of the house so I could try and nap. I tucked myself into bed and went to sleep, with my beautiful girl beside me.
As a last word, I need to say a HUGE, huge thank you to my birth team. Kaz, Katia, Deb, Taija (hehe), Nicole, and Anna- I was surrounded by amazing women, supported and encouraged. I am forever grateful.