Giving birth

My instincts during my unplanned home birth were a total surprise

After four miscarriages, I didn’t trust my body. But when I went into labour at home, I somehow knew what to do.

After years of unexplained infertility, four miscarriages, and one healthy, beautiful baby boy, my daughter revealed herself as a follicle growing inside my right ovary: Black and white, “a big juicy egg,” the ultrasound tech pointed, beaming. 

I wanted to mirror her hope but I felt totally defeated in this moment. The purpose of this appointment was to ensure that my uterus was clear from my latest miscarriage. The baby whose heartbeat I’d seen just 10 weeks ago would not be joining our family.

The big juicy egg pushed the corners of my mouth up ever so slightly but the terror of it all happening again cast a dark cloud over my heart’s deepest desires. I felt a bit greedy wanting to complete our family with a second child but this was the vision that I held for our family. I was scheduled for intake at yet another fertility clinic in six weeks—I’d previously done four rounds of IVF using 11 embryos but none of those resulted in a pregnancy. And although I’d gotten pregnant spontaneously before, my problem was staying pregnant. If I took this chance and it failed, I would have to wait even longer before I could try to get pregnant again. Deep into 40, I didn’t trust my body to create a viable pregnancy on its own.  

But my doctor hyped the follicle, too. “Just because you miscarried last time, doesn’t mean you will again,” she said. It was late July, the same month, two years ago, that I’d somehow spontaneously gotten pregnant with our son after three failed rounds of IVF. It felt like Russian roulette to me. 

I played, and I won. A month later, my period was 12 days late. The pregnancy test felt like the Magic 8 ball I used to consult at least six times a day (and pretend not to rely on) when I was 10 years old. “What is my future, white stick?” 

Trusting myself was never really my thing. And trusting myself to bring tiny humans into the world was no exception. I spent my entire pregnancy in varying states of anxiety. Strange things happened—or rather I behaved strangely. I snuck out of the house in the middle of the night to get the baby measured at the hospital because she was tracking a bit small. Upon arrival I got the reassurance I needed: I heard her heartbeat and got additional proof from the printout generated by the electronic fetal monitor. I consulted the heartbeat waves from that magical strip of paper often to reassure myself that she was ok, even though my logical mind knew it was just a snapshot of a moment in time. I counted kicks incessantly. I hired a doula to help see me through the ups and downs of my anxiety and be a non-medical support during my delivery. Having had our son in France, where I saw the doctor and my fetus almost monthly and where my birth was attended by two midwives and a doctor, I was very suspicious of the laissez-faire attitude that the Canadian medical system had towards pregnancy. “Pregnancy is not a medical condition.” As a woman pregnant for the sixth time with only one child to show for it, the approach did not resonate. 

Two days after my due date, on April 29, my ability to trust myself and my body was put to the ultimate test. I woke up with the familiar Braxton hicks at 4 a.m. I took my daily profile selfie in the bathroom mirror at 6 a.m but it all felt a bit different that morning. I felt a slowness as I went about my routine and for once it seemed that my mind was not racing.  

I suddenly felt a glimmer of self-assuredness. I walked over to my husband, still asleep. “She’s coming today,” I whispered with excitement. 

The contractions were very infrequent but were getting stronger. I showered, debating if I should wash and dry my hair for the big event. I decided that my hair was perfect for birthing as is. I dressed in my favourite maternity outfit—snow leopard print joggers, a white scoop neck and sports bra, and set about getting ready to go to the hospital. 

In the background, life continued as normal, like a movie playing in the distance, while my body rushed to support the activity within. My mind attempted to contain the contractions. My husband had taken our little Frenchie out in the backyard, the window was open and I could hear him calling out to Francisco as he taunted birds. The nanny arrived for the day. I took deep breaths, brushing my teeth, and then, like a tsunami crashing against a rock wall, my water broke. I dropped my toothbrush and doubled over in agony. My mind was still resisting, but I knew. “She’s coming now!” I wailed out the window into the backyard, for everyone and my husband to hear. 

The nanny came into the bathroom with my shoes and coat, but I handed the coat and shoes right back to her and demanded my husband. I lay down alongside the tub and informed him that he needed to peel off the drenched snow-leopard joggers and call an ambulance. 

She was a pleasant-sounding woman with a steady voice but she seemed to say a lot of obvious things. “The time is 6:56 Pacific Daylight Time.” “Is that your wife [screaming] in the background?” “Were you planning a home birth?” The Voice was also adamant that I stay away from the toilet, as though I may be confused as to what was about to pass through me. She told me to lay on my back and push. I could hear her but I wasn’t listening to her words. I was focused on what I had to do and I also needed to know: Where was the ambulance, or my doula for that matter?

As the Voice repeated her direction to stay away from the toilet, lay on my back, and push, my body instinctively did a 180-degree turn onto my hands and knees. I barely had to push and a fire enveloped my stretching skin as my sweet baby’s head emerged from within me into my husband’s steady hands. And as suddenly as they had come, the contractions retreated. 

He held her head and waited. “She’s not crying,” he told the Voice. Again, the panic of dark thoughts entered, but I knew I needed to keep going. My darling girl’s head had emerged but her body remained within my own. She was not yet ready for us to fully separate. I could not hear her, nor see her, and so, I called for her. 

Stella, 26 months, in her birth room. Courtesy of Saphina Waters.

The Voice responded, “You’re going to have to push,” she directed. But I was already there. With all my innermost strength, I pushed our beautiful baby girl out into her dad’s arms. Still silence. The seconds felt like an eternity. And then, finally, she cried: a strong, piercing cry. Sitting amidst the blood, amniotic fluid, and birth, holding my baby was beautiful. I was shaking: processing her arrival, the event, while blissfully drawing in the magic that emanated from her. Her eyes dark and intentional, fingers long and slender, mouth hungry and searching: she was spectacular. The Voice announced that it was 7:23 am Pacific Daylight Time. 

The Voice instructed my husband to tie the umbilical cord. Bless him, because he was a hero at every stage of this event, but he tried to get a belt before deciding on some kitchen string. The ambulance finally arrived at 7:34 am Pacific Daylight Time. 

We didn’t make it to the hospital, the doula didn’t make it to the birth, nor did the ambulance. But Stella, our shooting star—she made it. I was bursting with emotion to know that the three of us did this together. My husband was phenomenal, supportive, steadfast, calm, clear, and present. And I had done what I needed to push my fears aside, and surrender to the power of my intuition and trust that I had what it took to bring my baby into this world. 

The doula met us at the hospital to help me deliver my placenta and generously offered me a discount on her services.