I realized this morning that I never got around to writing Levi's birth story. What better day to do so than on Levi's first birthday?
Kivi and I knew early on that we wanted a home birth. We both feel that birth is a normal and healthy process which is unnecessarily medicalized in our culture. While completing my women's studies degree at UofT I took (and LOVED) a course called Scientific Constructions of Sex and Gender where I learned about the history of birth practices. Ever since, I've known that I wanted to do everything in my power to experience natural childbirth. This is not to say that women shouldn't be able to choose to give birth in a hospital or birthing centre if they exist where you live. Birth Centres aren't an option in Ontario. (To learn more and support the opening of birth centres in Ontario click here). And if you think a medicalized birth is right for you, no judgement! Or if you plan to go drug free and then change your mind and want an epidural, seriously, go for it! Everyone needs to make choices that work for them and their family. For us though, using a midwife, birthing naturally and delivering at home was a no brainer.
Fast forward to Sunday, February 13, 2011. As was our tradition, before going to sleep we sang the Shema (Jewish prayer) and a goodnight song to my belly (and didn't feel the least bit silly doing so!). I'd been pregnant for 38 weeks and one day and I was so over it! This particular night, I spent a few minutes telling Levi how we'd spent the day organizing his nursery and sorting his clothes by size so everything was all ready for him and he could arrive any time now. The sooner the better, please.
DISCLAIMER: Here's where things start getting graphic folks, so if you aren't into birth details, I suggest moving along. The abbreviated story is that Levi was born the next day, okay? Seriously, things are about to get REAL.
Still with me? So at around 6:00 a.m. Kivi woke up to get ready for work and I headed to the washroom and lost my mucus plug. Yay! I know this means labour could start any time but could also not start for a week. Since we'd decided to invite my mom to the birth and she lives in Ottawa, I called her to give her the heads up. While on the phone with her, my water broke. Well, that was a surprise! We'd learned that only 10% of womens' waters break before labour begins. Huh. We told my mom to book a train ticket and head to Toronto because this
baby would need to be born within the next 24 hours (that's the window
the midwives give you to deliver once your waters break). Since I wasn't even remotely in labour yet, we decided that Kivi would work from home and I'd try and get some sleep.
I woke up at around 11:30 a.m. Still no contractions. I think I took a shower but I'm not 100% sure on this. I wanted to get this party started so we decided to go for a walk to see if that would bring on contractions. Almost immediately I got the feeling that I had to, um, use the toilet. My sister had given birth the month before so I called her to ask if this was a sign of labour. She said that she'd felt the same sensation early on. Now, I figured I had hours of early labour ahead of me. I couldn't have been more wrong! Four blocks later, in line for my coffee at Aroma, I was having real contractions. But! We were out of laundry detergent! I had two contractions at Grass Roots while Kivi paid for the soap. These ones required me to sit down. But! I wanted berries! Let's stop at Metro! This wasn't the brightest idea but luckily someone let Kivi cut in line when he explained that his wife was in labour. To give you a sense of time, we were out of the house for 30 minutes and I had six contractions during that time. Things were moving quickly
We called the midwife at around 1:30 p.m. My midwife Emily was off-call which was really disappointing. Our back-up midwife Kathleen was awesome though. I was handling the contractions well and since they weren't 4-1-1 (every four minutes, lasting one minute, for an hour) we decided we'd call back after an hour. Except, almost immediately my contractions were lasting over a minute and were seriously every two minutes or less. I was in active labour. This was not what I'd imagined! I was sure I'd have an early labour period to get into my groove and figure out how to manage contractions. My body had something else in mind.
By the time Kathleen arrived at around 3:00 p.m., I was having back to back contractions and was seven centimetres dilated. The only way I could manage them was to keep moving. I walked a loop from around my living room and bedroom, stopping only to lean against the wall or breakfast bar or hang my arms around Kivi's neck and bear down to ride the waves. Kathleen suggested we try the bathtub. After one surge I was outta there. Sitting down sucked. She suggested a few other positions, all of which made me miserable, so we went with what worked: pacing, hanging off my husband and deep breathing.
I transitioned sometime thereafter. You know how you read about how all women scream for drugs at some point in labour? I totally did that! At around 4:30 I was all, I can't do this, I need drugs, whose effing idea was this natural childbirth thing, get me to the hospital stat! And Kathleen, G-d love her, said "I'm not your regular midwife so I'm not totally sure about your birth plan. You are doing awesome here at home. But, we can totally go to the hospital if that's what you want. Here's how it would work. First, you'll need to get dressed (I was naked the whole time I was in labour - it was most comfortable) and then we need to get you into a car." And I was all...wait?! I'd have to sit down? Screw that! That's impossible! No way! Let's just get this thing done. I asked her to check how dilated I was to get a sense of how much longer I had to keep doing this labour thing, but she said that they didn't like checking too often and it had only been half an hour. We agreed to check at around 6. Spoiler alert: we never checked my dilation again.
Kathleen suggested I try water again, this time the standing shower. It was a good choice. I liked the heat and steady stream of water on my lower back. I spent the next hour pounding against the wall in a steady rhythm. I went inside myself and just concentrated on getting through each contraction, although there was no break in between them. Kivi was with me every step of the way, just being there and letting me do my thing, responding if I asked for something and otherwise supporting me silently, just as we'd discussed. My mother arrived just before 6 p.m. and tried to say hello. I think I growled "no talking!" to her.
I remember feeling that I had to push. Kivi got Kathleen and she said that she needed a few more minutes to set up. Two minutes later I told Kivi to tell her that I had to start pushing. She needed another minute. One minute later I told Kivi that I was pushing NOW! They walked me over to the bedroom and we were off to the races. I birthed on my back, with Mom and Kivi holding my legs. Poor Mom got a serious workout and I destroyed her neck when pushing. Sorry Mom! After about 40 minutes, Levi was on my chest.
Levi was born at 7:36 p.m. He weighed 6 lbs, 13 oz, perfect for a Jewish baby (there are 613 mitzvot). After greeting him by name Kivi and I whispered the Shema in his ear. He and I stayed skin to skin while the midwives worked on me. After delivering the placenta, things got a bit hairy. I lost a lot of blood and needed two bags on saline to get back into shape. There was minimal tearing, but major clotting. At one point there was concern that we'd need to transfer to the hospital but my midwives were superstars and by 1 a.m. Kathleen was wishing us good night.
I could not have asked for a better birth experience. My body and my baby knew exactly what to do. It was fast and furious and I got everything I'd wanted: a natural birth at home and a healthy baby boy. It was incredibly empowering. I wish every woman could have an experience like mine.
Happy birthday to my beautiful, curious, clever little boy. Mama loves you!