I was due in May of 1981. I knew exactly how my birth would go. It would be the beginning of the summer in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Because I lived right across from a beautiful beach, I knew I would spend my early birthing hours down at the ocean with my 4 year old daughter. I’d be dressed in something loose and billowy. We would spend a few hours contemplating the waves coming in and out, in and out, in and out; just as the waves of birth would take over my body like an elemental force of Nature. I would get my guidance from the sea and then go home to birth my baby peacefully.
Of course, this was my fantasy birth and the real birth went the way it went. It began at the pharmacy the evening of May 9. While paying for my purchases, I felt something “whoosh” out of me. What the heck?, was that the mucous plug? Such a strange feeling of something dropping down. When I got home with my daughter and checked, sure enough, there was the mucous plug in my underwear. I put Jenny to bed and called my midwife, Jude, to give her an early heads up about this beginning of the birth but told her I was not having any birth sensations at all. When I hung up the phone from talking to her, I realized that I WAS getting mild sensations but they were very light. I settled into the last night of the pregnancy knowing I’d be meeting my baby soon and happy that everything was ready.
I woke a few times in the night and couldn’t sleep so I picked up the novel I was reading, “Shogun”, James Clavell’s epic story of Japan. I would read a few chapters while the birth sensations came and went easily and then I would snooze again. The book and the birth sensations combined to give me dreams of having a little Japanese baby.
About 6 a.m. my membranes released spontaneously while I was resting in bed. I thought to myself “this isn’t the way I do it” “That is so weird!”. I expected this birth to proceed along to the pushing stage and, then, have my membranes “go”, like my previous experience of home birth.
Here I was at the very beginning and my membranes had released, how strange. I phoned my midwife again and let her know that the membranes had released but I really wasn’t having the baby for a long time and that I would call her back when it got stronger. She said “no, I’m coming over to be with you now.” I assured her that it was okay for her to come but that it really wasn’t necessary. She was adamant that she was on her way.
As soon as I hung up the phone from speaking to her, my body shifted into high gear birthing. I could feel hormones running through my body like someone was injecting them with a needle. I let the feelings be and even tried to intensify them. I sat on the toilet and reminded myself “What you resist persists”. I let go of all fight and surrendered more and more to the intense force of the birth and I found it to be painless when I did. I knew big things were happening and, if I lost my resolve and resisted, it hurt but then, when I surrendered and tried to expand the feelings even more, it was painless and actually fun to observe.
When Jude came in to the bathroom, she said “How far apart are they?” I said “It’s just one sensation that goes up and down but there’s no space in between. It doesn’t hurt though.” She swung into action getting linens out and boiling water on the stove and I can remember thinking “What is she doing? I’m not going to have the baby for ages.” My sister tells me that I called her about 8 a.m. and calmly told her to come to my place for the birth but I have no recollection of doing that. My daughter, Jenny, woke up and got into her best dress for the “birth day party”. At one point, I recall her asking me “Mommy, do you know where my little socks with the blue frill are?” and that question broke my focus on expanding the sensations. I replied through clenched teeth “Go call your Father.” She went to the phone and called her dad saying “Can you come over, daddy, my mommy’s having her baby today.” My ex knew that it takes me a long time to give birth so he got up, showered, shaved and missed the birth because it wasn’t long this time. When she called him back shortly and said “Daddy, I have a new baby sister”, he came running.
Somehow, the four women who I wanted at the birth arrived. . . I was oblivious to their presence except to notice that I could fully focus now that they had my back. I felt the urge to push and was astounded “Wait a minute, I haven’t had any pain yet! I CAN’T be pushing.” Pushing waits for no woman and, there I was, right into it and looking for the right position. I had visualized all through the pregnancy that I would push on all fours. That position felt so right the last time I birthed, but it was all wrong this time. I tried side lying with my leg elevated. . . “Oh no, that was SOOOOO awkward”. Finally, I semi-sat scrunched into the corner of my bed supported by the walls on two sides and that’s what worked for me. I was completely silent through all this. I quickly felt the baby move down to give me that “stretched beyond known limits” feeling in my bum. Now, it was painful. I remember thinking “Gloria, you idiot, you knew it would feel like this. . . how could you get yourself here again?” At one point, it felt like my midwife had a large, prickly gauze square pushed hard up against my bottom. With closed eyes and through gritted teeth, I said “Get that gauze square off my ass.” Jude said gently, “Gloria, open your eyes. . . there’s no one anywhere near you.” Sure enough, I opened my eyes to see my four lovely attendants all standing seven feet away from me as I had asked them. (Long before the day of this birth, I had told them there was to be no touching, no fetal heart tone taking, no blood pressure checks, no exams of any kind. I wanted to catch the baby myself and I was confident even to do it alone if they hadn’t agreed to my wishes.) The feeling of counter pressure on my butt was just the forehead of a 10# baby trying to exit a tight place.
I put my hands down to hold my tissues and baby Joanna gently emerged into my hands. She was perfect. Jenny and I sat and marveled at her beauty. The “fairy godmothers” around the bed leaned in with loving gazes. I had made it through and the feeling of relief and relaxation engulfed me. Then I heard Suzanne say to Jude “There’s more blood than I like”. When I heard that, I realized that I needed to consciously stop bleeding and so I changed my state momentarily and tightened things up to keep the birth at home. Right away, I heard Suzanne say “Oh, it’s okay now.” I’m so grateful that she gave me the information I needed so I could do what I needed to do to help my body.
We hung out for a long time with the new baby and then I napped, ate and washed. After that, all the women and my two daughters sat in a circle in the living room and we talked about birth. My sister and my friend, Faye, had both had cesareans and their experience with major abdominal surgery was the main focus of the conversation, as I recall. It may sound strange, but I remember that the conversing about cesareans was so perfect. I was happy that my sister was able to see her niece born so peacefully and Faye went on to have a VBAC birth a few years later.
Jude Loyer, my midwife, had been a student midwife with me for a few years. We were very close friends right from the start and I wanted my birth to be her “birth” as a midwife. I was not an easy first client so she was a brave soul. She went on to attend many births in Calgary, Alberta and she died of non-Hodgkins lymphoma at 47 years old. This is a photo of Jude around that time with her own baby daughter, April. JudeApril.part I was able to help Jude’s grandson be born so our families are still intertwined. I’ll be forever grateful to Jude for helping me learn so many important birth lessons that I have been able to pass on to others.
May 10, 1981 was Mother’s Day. Instead of the sunny, warm beach day that I envisioned, Mother Nature opened up the sky and threw down lightening bolts and thunder. Right after baby Joanna’s arrival we had a massive rain storm that overflowed the streets with water and washed the Earth clean. Joanna is turning 29 years old and, to this day, there is nothing I would change about my experience of giving birth to her. How wonderful to experience a birth with no regrets. Whenever I do feel blue, I remember that God sent me the best Mother’s Day present ever in 1981–a healthy baby girl who has filled my life with joy and sunshine. Lucky me.