Ask any mother about the birth of her child and you're sure to get a detailed account of the day (or days) that led up to the big moment when she finally met her baby. The twinges that led to contractions that led to pushes are all accounted for, along with how the seemingly irrelevant details of the world around her wove their way into that life changing experience. The story of my own birth includes a labor induction as a tax incentive, a Beatles jigsaw puzzle and my sister running barefoot across the street in the December cold to tell the neighbors!
But despite women the world over being the keepers of these stories of how each life began, we are continually presented with a distorted view of birth whenever we turn on the T.V. or watch a movie. Women screaming and terrified, doctors (and, yes, they're nearly always men) stepping in at the last moment to "deliver" the baby and the mysterious absence of both an umbilical cord and a placenta do a gross disservice to the miracle of birth and only serve to scare any woman planning to have a child.
I really only became aware of the power of the birth story when I was pregnant for Pádraic, and expanded my pregnancy reading beyond the physiology and into the spiritual aspects of birth. I read a wonderful book by acclaimed midwife Ina May Gaskin called Ina May's Guide to Childbirth
. I would recommend it to any woman who is pregnant or is considering having a baby. The entire first half of the book is devoted to telling birth stories. There are stories of home births, hospital births, breech births, twin births, cesaerean births-you name it! Each story is unique, but what they all have in common is that the mothers had powerful, positive experiences of birth.
So, here are the stories of Síofra's and Pádraic's births. You've probably heard them before, but, hey, you just can't hear too many good birth stories.Síofra's Birth: April 29, 2004
Síofra was born four days past her "due date." I was beginning to think the baby would never be born. Each day I would wake up expecting to feel something
. I didn't really know what I would feel, but each day I was greeted with the same pregnancy feelings: numb hands from my carpel tunnel syndrome, feet twice their normal size and a belly that seemed like it was about to burst. On Thursday morning I did wake up to something. A vague crampiness that took about a half hour to recognize. I woke up Daithí to tell him the day had arrived, and he set about cancelling his meetings and appointments for the day (this was 6 weeks before the election). By noon the contractions were five minutes apart but easy going. I kept busy cleaning the bathroom, sweeping the floor and printing off the "contraction timing sheets" that I'd made up on the computer (these are the things you have time to do when you don't have kids yet). I was determined to stay at home for as long as possible; the maternity hospital was only 5 minutes drive away, and was notoriously busy. I wanted to stay calm and relaxed in familiar surroundings for as long as possible. At 5 o'clock we decided to go in, as contractions were 2 to 3 minutes apart and were getting stronger. Daithí called our friend Dee to come over and drive us there. The midwife examined me, and, to my dismay I wasn't dilated at all. We walked the hallways for an hour, and the midwife examined me again, but no change. She suggested that since we were so close to the hospital we go h
ome for a few hours and relax. I took her advice, and we went home at 7 p.m. but as soon as we got home things really started to kick off. I leaned over my birthing ball and Daithí rubbed my back. Later, he told me he had considered putting the Yasir Arafat biography he was reading at the time on my back so that he could read and rub at the same time. It is a good thing that he did not do this. However, he did eat tortilla chips and salsa with his free hand, which really grossed me out, but I couldn't talk well enough to tell him. Dee went home at 8:30, thinking it'd be early morning before she'd have to come back to take us back into the hospital. However, at 9:00 I went into the bathroom and as soon as I sat on the toilet I heard a splash that I knew was my water breaking. I then realized that I was pushing, and this was uncontrollable. I called to Daithí and he came to help me, but our bathroom was so small that he just had to talk to me through the door. He called Dee to come back, and I managed to breathe through the next 10 minutes of pushing until she got back to our place. I hobbled down to her car between pushes, and got into the front seat, backwards on my knees. Naturally, we got a red light, and I realized that the baby was actually coming out. I remember shouting, "IT'S RIPPING." (nothing did rip, by the way, but it felt like it). I don't think Daithí realized what was actually happening. He kept saying, "We have another 4 hours; the midwife said so." At one point Dee reached over and could feel Síofra's head about 3 inches out, through my pyjama bottoms. At last we reached the hospital, they put me in a wheelchair (not easy with a baby sticking half out) and wheeled me to the elevator. The midwife met us, and as we stepped into the elevator (me, Daithí, Dee, the midwife and the porter who was pushing the wheelchair) she said, "Let's just have a little look." When she pulled down my pyjamas Síofra came out in one push at 9:18 p.m.
Afterwards, I felt great, and was able to start breastfeeding her within 5 minutes of her birth. I came home the next day at noon.Pádraic's Birth: February 19, 2006
When Síofra about about 3 months old we happened to run into the midwife that had advised us to go home when I was in labor having Síofra. We talked to her, and she said, "Well, next time you can have a home birth with the community midwives and stay out of the hospital all together!" I filed this away in my head, and when I became pregnant again the next year, Daithí and I both agreed that a home birth was what we wanted. The community midwives are a team of 8 midwives who see you throughout the pregnancy and two of them are present at the birth, either at the hospital where you can go home 3 or 4 hours after the birth, or, if you live in the catchment area and are considered low risk, at home. We proceeded with the home birth plan. All of my pre-natal appointments were at home, too, which made it much easier to get to know the midwives. When I was 35 weeks the midwife told us that the baby was in breech position. This totally freaked me out, as it would've probably meant a cesearean and longer hospital stay and that really scared me. I decided to do as much as I could to help Pádraic feel that I was ready for him to be born and to turn around. To the amusement of the builders working outside our living room windows and could see all my crazy antics, this included moxibustion
, acupuncture, exercises and relaxing. I also finished up work early, as I was finding it difficult and stressful. Within 5 days he had turned around and was in ready position. This was a great relief. Nine days before my due date I took Síofra to the Sinn Féin annual conference, and while there I ended up saying to a few people, "I think I'm ready now for this baby to be born." I took Síofra home at 5 o'clock, got her dinner and bathed, and just wasn't feeling right. Very tired, a bit heavy feeling, and extra achy. When Daithí got home at 6:30 I laid down for a half hour. We got Síofra to bed and ordered Indian food and while I was eating I realized that what I was feeling were mild contractions. By 10 o'clock they were every 10 minutes or so, and were getting uncomfortable. We called Dee, who was my doula this time, and put her on standby. At 11 p.m. we called the midwife, and she suggested that we get some sleep and call back when it got more intense. We did this, and I managed to sleep on and off until 2 a.m. Then I got up and knew that things were moving. Daithí called the midwife and Dee and they arrived at the same time at 2:30 a.m. I was 2 cm dilated then, and knowing how fast it happened before I sensed that things would move quickly. And they did, I got really really hot and we had to open the windows. I was in the living room leaning over the birthing ball
with Dee and Daithí encouraging me. It was very quiet and calm. I decided to get through one more contraction and then go to the bathroom, and at the end of that contraction I felt something "pop" inside me. I knew that my water was going to break, so I made a dash to the bathroom (I hadn't laid down the plastic sheeting I'd gotten, and since we had new carpet I didn't want to mess it up. This actually went through my mind at that moment). In the bathroom my water broke and I began to push. The midwife and Dee started to get towels ready and I stood up, holding Daithí's shoulder with one hand and the sink with the other. Pádraic was born in about 5 pushes at 3:35 a.m. Daithí was the first to see that he was a boy and he was able to cut the cord. I was able to begin breastfeeding within minutes of his birth, and we were in our own comfortable bed about 15 minutes after the birth. Everything went so smoothly, and quickly and calmly, and Síofra slept through the whole thing!
If any of you mothers haven't yet written down your children's birth stories, I'd encourage you to do it--it's such an important thing to record!