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August 7, 2022

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The Home Waterbirth of Isabella Charlotte Rose


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Did you start at the beginning? « Part I

Part III: Up the Stairs We Go

Around 2:00pm P. suggested we head upstairs and try getting into the shower to help relieve some of the pain of contractions. I made it upstairs as far as the toilet in our master bath and tried once more to empty my bladder, again no luck. In my mind, after nine months of peeing every 15 minutes, this seemed less a cause for concern and more of a welcome break! While on the toilet a contraction hit and I found that, much to my surprise, this location worked for me. In all the beautiful images of labour that I had created in my head, nowhere did my toilet appear. I had heard of many women labouring on the toilet but never imagined I would be one of them. However, despite how odd it might have looked or seemed, I finally felt as if I had found my place and stubbornly resisted all suggestions to move, even to try out the shower. I was staying put; at least for the time being.

When I think back to this time, the actual memory of the contractions are very dim. I can recall all the other minute details of the day so vividly; but the contractions and the physical experience of labour itself are already fuzzy in my mind. The contractions were definitely hard, they were painful and they were difficult to endure. The rhythmic and involuntary squeezing of my uterine muscles was unlike anything I had ever experienced and it seems that the reality of the sensations cannot be captured in mere words. It is an all-encompassing physical experience, but also such a mental and emotional time. After many attempts, the ability to separate and describe just one of these aspects still eludes me.

As intense as the contractions were, I don't recall feeling diminished by the pain. Rather, I felt empowered, determined, and exhilarated by it. With my dear husband and my incredible support team of midwives at my side, I could have moved mountains if that is what it would have taken to bring my baby to this world. Labour has an incredible physicality that defies escape, although there were times when I defiantly sought a reprieve from the seemingly unending onslaught of contractions. Going through this without pain relief brought a brutal honesty to the experience. I was forced to be present with all five senses; there was no hiding from any of the sensations. Labour was a highly sensory experience, everything was heightened and intensified, and yet at the same time I often felt as if I existed on a separate plane from everyone and everything else.

For me, this was also part of the gift of a natural labour; the ability to experience the entire event without my senses impaired or diminished. I believe the pain of labour is instructive and purposeful. It keeps you in touch with your body, with the processes occurring within it, and lets you instinctively know what is right and wrong. Not only was I completely present within each moment, but in some strange way I also felt in touch with all women in the world giving birth at that moment, and all the mothers that came before me, giving me the wisdom and knowledge to light my way. I hope that in telling my story I will pass on some bit of wisdom to mothers yet to be, and give them the strength and courage to experience labour in its entirety.

Strangely enough, it is my experience of a completely drug free labour that gives me a new understanding of why so many women take pain relief in the hospital. I have always been very committed to a natural birth, as I steadfastly believe that it is best for the baby and myself. Having experienced (and lived to describe) a natural labour and delivery I remain ever more committed to these beliefs. It is my conviction that an un-medicated birth is, without a doubt, the best possible and safest scenario. However, after having experienced labour firsthand, I can now better understand how a woman labouring in the hospital may end up accepting pain relief, even if she had spent nine months resolutely planning a natural delivery. It was difficult to go through pain of that magnitude and intensity, even with the level of support that was given to me. In a less supportive situation (with a nurse or doctor constantly offering to take the pain away) one would have to be very strong, both physically and mentally, to refuse.

For the first little after we moved upstairs Sam continued to run around, getting things set up and ready and working on assembling and filling the birth pool. Finally, having had enough quite enough alone time, I told P. that I needed him to be with me. P. had been a wonderful help, but I wanted my husband! She laughed and said his response was very typical of a father-to-be. She explained that most men are 'fixers' by nature. All of a sudden their wives go into labour and they find themselves a central player in what is, for the most part, an uncontrollable situation. With their previously well-ordered world turned upside down, they tend occupy their time taking care of concrete things, thereby giving themselves the illusion of control. Sitting still and watching the woman you love experience pain is not even remotely concrete, and no matter how prepared or devoted it leaves most men feeling more than a little off balance. Thankfully, once requested (or ordered) my dear husband handed his tasks over to the midwives and came to be with me, I felt better almost immediately just having him near.

Shortly afterward, around 2:30pm, I began to get curious as to how far along I had progressed. I surprised myself by asking P. to do another internal exam. Throughout the late part of my pregnancy I had been very curious to know if anything was happening, constantly wondering if my body had begun it's preparation for labour. Despite this never-ending curiosity, I refused every time P. offered to do an internal exam. My thought was that it would make the waiting worse either way (if I hadn't dilated I would be disappointed, if I had I would really get impatient for things to happen). I preferred the hands off approach favored by my midwife, in order to let my body and my pregnancy move on it's own schedule.

Now that I was in active labour and had been experiencing contractions for so many hours, I was very eager to know if all this pain and hard work was getting me anywhere. Again, P. waited until a contraction had subsided and did a quick internal exam. Suddenly her face took on a look surprise and she told me, with some astonishment, that I was six centimeters dilated, stretching to seven with a contraction, 100% effaced and at 0 station! I could hardly believe it, three centimeters in just over an hour was better than I hoped, now that felt like real progress! Because things had moved so quickly in such a short amount of time, I began expecting that the birth of my baby would not be horribly far away. I felt a renewed burst of enthusiasm and strength at the thought of how close I was to meeting this baby.

Contractions continued to be tough, but I felt as if was doing quite well getting through them. Around this time I got hit with several bouts of nausea strong enough that I vomited what little I had been reminded to eat and drink. I felt pretty awful. The midwives basically stayed in the background, coming in periodically to check on me or bring me food and drinks to help me stay strong and meet the challenges that lay ahead. I knew they were available whenever I needed them, but they mostly left Sam and I alone to work through the contractions.

Whenever I started to get off-track, when I would lose the pattern of breathing, or my vocalizations would get high pitched, Sam would look into my eyes and loudly breath with me to help me find my center again. At times the contraction were so intense I could not concentrate to hold his gaze, during these moments I instead retreated internally, focusing on the sound of my breath and Sam's flowing together; in and out, in and out. He would rub my legs and apply wet cloths to cool me off. He was so strong for me; I think my love for him grew a thousand-fold that day. Going through such a highly emotional and physical event with Sam gave me a whole new appreciation of his goodness and strength. I am thankful every day that I have a husband like him by my side through labour and through life. Throughout the nine months of pregnancy we found our relationship continually growing stronger, but this experience bonded us in an entirely new way.

Dealing with contractions was a very internal thing for me. I was not, for the most part, very loud or vocal; although there were certainly times when the pain got the better of me and I cried out or moaned loudly. As labour continued to intensify, I would I would close my eyes and retreat to my own inner world with each contraction. As I breathed slowly in and out, I would drop my head back and roll it from side to side until the contraction ended. I don't remember ever feeling like I couldn't do it anymore, and in moments of weakness I tried to remind myself that each contraction I experienced brought me closer to meeting my baby. I do distinctly remember wishing that things could just slow down for a little while. At one point I actually asked, only partially joking, if we could just arrange a little break in the process so I could gather my strength. Of course the answer was no, this was one request that could not be met. At the time I was feeling quite tired, and remember thinking that all I would need was a 15-minute reprieve to gather my reserves and I could continue again. Fortunately I had Sam and my midwives to get me through - at no point was I left alone to cope by myself. I always had the loving support of the four people who were present, giving me strength, wiping my face with a cold cloth, and whispering words of encouragement when I needed them most. Every so often one of the midwives would come into the bathroom and deliver much needed sustenance in the form of juice, cheese and crackers, peanut butter (and once even chocolate ice cream). It is so difficult to eat even when you know you must, it is so hard to concentrate on something as mundane and every day as hunger when you are going through something so profound and life altering as labour.

Some time later, around 3:45pm, I requested that P. check me again, almost expecting her to say I was just about ready to push. I knew by the look on her face this time that I was not going to like the news, and I was right. After an hour and 15 minutes I was still only 6 centimeters dilated, and now had a swollen cervical lip that was interfering with the descent of the baby's head. This may have been partly due to the fact that I had stayed in the same position for so long, causing the baby's head to press against my cervix and leading to swelling. My overly full bladder may have also contributed to the situation, either way it was very discouraging news to receive. The pool was almost ready to go and P. wanted me to get in and labour on my hands and knees. This position would best relieve the pressure of the baby's head on my cervix and possibly alleviate the swelling, allowing labour to progress once more. I was disappointed and disheartened; this is the only point that I remember feeling negative about the process and slightly angry with my body for not co-operating. I was reluctant to move, but knew that I needed to reign in my negative train of thought and approach this unexpected challenge with as much optimism as I could muster.

Part IV: Into The Pool

I distinctly remember the sensation of sinking into the warm water; it felt like immediate release. As the water swirled around my swollen belly, I felt the tense and tired muscles throughout my body just relaxing. It was as if my entire body let out a huge entire sigh - "Ahhhhhh" - and I momentarily experienced complete relief. The bottom of the pool was padded and quite comfortable, and in the hands and knees position I was able rest my head comfortably against the side of the pool. Unfortunately this respite lasted only a few seconds and the next contraction hit me all too soon. I assumed the hands and knees position and was immediately hit by very severe lower back pain. The back pain was much worse than any of my contractions had been up until this point, and I cried out in agony.

It quickly got very difficult to maintain control, to keep breathing and not scream out each time the contraction started and the back pain began anew. I began to dread the abdominal tightening that signaled an impending contraction, because I knew the intense back pain would not be far behind. I really needed all the help available to me now - constant reminders to focus on my breathing, and someone to calm me down and bring me back to my pattern. Each time a contraction hit, Sam and one of the midwives would apply counter pressure and massage my back, while P. attempted to hold back my cervix in order to allow the baby's head descend properly and to prevent further swelling. The back massage helped immensely, they poured olive oil on my back and as soon as a contraction began I would call out and two strong pairs of hands would begin their soothing work. I remember needing so much of my focus to get through. I had no idea whose hands they were kneading my muscles, just that they were there whenever I needed them. This was by far the most difficult and painful part of my labour experience to endure.

Despite P.'s continued efforts, the swelling was just not going down, and this continued to impede my progress. It seemed to take forever, but in reality it only took about an hour for things to start progressing again. It was so discouraging to have had things move so quickly in the beginning and then have the progress of my labour halted by something so beyond my control. I wanted to change positions so badly, to end the back pain, but I knew that in order to move forward and become completely dilated I had to remain where I was. By 4: 30pm the contractions were coming every two minutes and I had dilated to 7 centimeters. At 4:50pm I was dilated to 8 centimeters and 10 minutes later I had gained one more centimeter. The cervical lip still remained at his point, but I was so encouraged that progress was being made that I tried to be positive. This by far seemed like the longest and most difficult part of my labour, both because of the physical pain but also because emotionally and mentally I was very drained and disappointed. I felt as if the flow of my labour had been interrupted and I found it difficult to regain the focus and serenity that had been such a blessing to me through most of my labour.

At 5:10pm P. told me she was pretty sure my water had broken during my last contraction. I don't remember feeling anything, and because my body was immersed in water it was hard to tell for sure. I don't actually recall anyone telling me I was fully dilated, although it is documented in my birth record at 5:20pm. P. had told me earlier to let her know when I had the urge to push. Shortly after my waters broke I felt the involuntary urge, and without meaning to I was already giving little pushes during each contraction. It was such an overwhelming sensation, as if everything in my body was concentrated on one thing. I felt as if I would be powerless to fight the urge and was glad when, at 5:25pm, P. said the swelling had gone down and I could begin to push. I was so excited - finally I could actively work towards bringing my baby into the world. Up till that point my body had been working hard (and mentally labour is hard work because of the struggle to say in control of the pain) but it is all so involuntary that there is this sense of waiting and immobility. With the ability to push came a renewed vigor and energy. Now we were really getting somewhere!

Part V »

Submitted by: Jeannette
February 2002


Heart and Hands : A Midwifes Guide to Pregnancy and Birth
by Elizabeth Davis

Elizabeth Davis's Heart and Hands, though subtitled A Midwife's Guide to Pregnancy and Birth, is not just for midwives. It's an excellent and thorough resource for parents-to-be who are thinking about delivering their child with a midwife, or who are concerned about the medical establishment's over-control of birth. (Two previous editions sold more than 100,000 copies and there are nowhere near 100,000 midwives or midwifery students to buy this book, proving that parents-to-be have looked to... read more»

Revised edition (December 1997)

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