Photo: Shea Long, Coastal Lifestyles Photography
I was 40 weeks and six days pregnant with my second baby, feeling huge and uncomfortable and more than ready to meet our new family member. In an effort to bring on labour (and after trying everything else under the sun), I got myself a tea latte and went for a solo hike in our local park. I sat on a tree stump and meditated, asking the baby to please come out now, and proceeded to march quickly up a steep hill.
Well, apparently that did it. Later that night, I went to bed feeling consistent, gentle contractions. Shortly after 10 p.m., what I can only describe as a surprising but painless internal firework exploded—it was my water breaking. My husband, Andrew, and I erupted into fits of laughter as we tried to get a handle on what was happening, and we began to prepare ourselves to meet our newest little one.
I’d chosen to have a home birth this time because my first birth experience was so fast. Archie had come like a bat out of the night. I was only in the hospital for three hours in total, and then I was back in my own bed at home to recover. I’d had a drug-free vaginal birth, so I was confident I’d be able to do it again. This time around, I was dead set against driving through city traffic and labouring in a car at all, especially since I knew my active labour was likely to be short. Our plan was that if I went into labour at night, we’d move our “labour room” to the basement in an effort to avoid waking Archie, our toddler. With a queen-size bed and a full bathroom, it was the perfect spot.
At 12:30 a.m., after I had three strong contractions that were each five minutes apart, we paged our midwives and moved downstairs. The contractions were coming in steady intervals, and they were intense enough that I had to focus my absolute full attention in order to breathe through them. Andrew made the birth bed, lit my favourite candles, dimmed the lights, prepped some snacks, made me tea and, most importantly, put on my birthing playlist.
My midwives arrived around 1 a.m. and determined that I was six centimetres dilated, but they also felt I was still in early labour; they said I was “too happy.” (I was still able to joke and sing along to my playlist between contractions.) They weren’t convinced the baby would be born any time soon—the contractions needed to get a bit closer together and to be a little more consistent. For the next few hours, my midwives encouraged me to labour in different positions. They had me standing up, walking around, bouncing on the birth ball (which I really didn’t like) and sitting on the toilet, and then they suggested I get into our bathtub. I laboured in the bath for a few hours. It was comfortable, but it wasn’t as soothing as I expected it would be, and we weren’t intending to have a water birth. What I found frustrating was that the positions I liked during my contractions weren’t the same ones I liked when I was between contractions.
At about 3 a.m., the contractions really ramped up. It was seriously hard work to stay focused. I remember going inward at this time and talking to myself, thinking things like, Just remember the breathing. You can do this. This is not pain, it’s just pressure. Impermanence helps with everything. That last line is my favourite and was written to me in a baby shower card from a colleague. I somehow maintained the strength to keep HypnoBirthing concepts I’d read about in my head: The idea that I didn’t need to fear birth and that my body was created to do it stuck with me and empowered me. I also remembered to breathe consistently through every contraction, clutching Andrew with a death grip. Holding his hands and keeping him near gave me a focal point and supported me through my most vulnerable and trying moments. I knew that if the pain was getting this intense, it meant it was almost time to push.
At this point, I started questioning my decision to have a drug-free birth, because the feelings were so intense. I was crying in between contractions, saying, “I don’t know how much longer I can do this.” This was when the pain really set in. One of my midwives reminded me that we’d talked about this transition in our appointments. We called it the “emotional breakdown stage,” and it meant we were very close to the baby arriving. It was a wonderful reminder and a moment of true connection I will always remember.
Throughout the entire birth, my playlist choices really brought me a sense of joy and a connection to the present, which fuelled positivity in the entire experience. From beginning to end, Andrew and I were joking about my sometimes funny adult-contemporary music selections (I should give a shout-out to Michael Bolton in particular). From Simon & Garfunkel and Sheryl Crow to the Dixie Chicks and the Carpenters, the songs connected me to calming moments in my life—I sing in a band for fun, and music and singing is my happy place, so hearing these songs really brought me into the moment and relaxed me. Some of them made me want to sing or hum along, and I did when I could.
I don’t really remember this, but at a certain point, I’m told, the midwives instructed Andrew to prop me up on pillows to start pushing. I had requested a mirror for pushing so I could watch my progress. This is something I had also used during Archie’s birth, and it really helped me keep my strength. Even though my active labour was only three and a half hours or so, this moment felt really long for me. I didn’t remember having to push this long with Archie. I liked seeing the baby’s head in the mirror and how much progress I was making, but I also remember feeling defeated because his head was so big and it was extremely hard work.
At this time, we didn’t know he had shoulder dystocia—essentially, the baby’s shoulders were stuck against my pubic bone—which was making the head harder to birth. Finally, my primary midwife said, “I’m sorry, Lynzie, but I have to drop this mirror and get in there now.” She’s a very experienced midwife, so I knew something wasn’t quite right.
She helped me birth the head and then used her hands to do a corkscrew-like manoeuvre to get his body out. To be honest, this entire part of the birth felt like a frightening blur to me. It was maybe only five to 10 minutes, but it was such an out-of-body experience that I lost all sense of time, overwhelmed by fear and urgency.
I distinctly remember the moment I felt her turn him and he finally slipped out.
I am so grateful for my talented team of midwives, because they were prepared for this rare situation—shoulder dystocia only happens in about one percent of births—and they knew exactly what to do. He was whisked away and resuscitated, and within five minutes or so he was suctioned, pink and screaming. His cries were the best sound I had heard in my entire life.
My midwives brought him over to me and I instantly fell in love: Lewis Crystjen, nine pounds, 14 ounces, was finally in my arms, safe and sound. He was born at 6:13 a.m., just 17 minutes before Archie’s Gro-Clock wake-up. Perfect timing.
Thinking back on everything, I’m so glad I opted for a home birth. Despite the final 10 to 15 minutes, when everything felt like an emergency, I know that this same situation would have occurred no matter where I chose to give birth. Had I been in the hospital, there might have been more extreme medical intervention, resulting in a longer healing process for me. My midwives acted quickly and effectively, and I will be forever thankful. I feel empowered by how focused and strong I was able to remain. For the majority of the birth, I was able to keep my sense of humour and feel joy all around me.
And Lewis, my little fighter who came into this world in a flurry, is now three months old and thriving. He is huge (18 pounds!), and he loves breastmilk, his older brother and—of course—my playlists.