HE SAID SHE SAID: on our home birth
By Marlene and Brent Wurfel
previously published in Birth Issues Spring 2010
We had lots of great reasons for choosing a homebirth for Number 3. We live in a story-and-a-half house in an old suburb of Edmonton and we love our home. I have long since hung up my hang-ups that un-medicated births are for anti-feminist religious whackos. We are scientifically minded educated people and both confident that a natural birth is the safest and most respectful way to bring a human into the world. We’ve heard great things about homebirths from people who had had them. After two positive waterbirth experiences at the Westview Hospital we were confident in my abilities to birth naturally and in my husband’s abilities to support me through an un-medicated labour. The news of my third pregnancy and the legislation making homebirth fully funded broke at the same time, in Spring, 2009. And probably most importantly, we’re sure Number 3 will be our last baby and we wanted to make the birth extra special.
Before we had any kids I had a vague sense of unease about the North American medical-industrial birthing model and a vague image of natural childbirth as the domain of the flaky. I now have a hypothesis that the medical birth industry is a conspiracy spawned from prudish Victorian mores and perpetuated by a cartel of Lexus dealers.
Because our first-born arrived about 12 hours after my first contraction, and our second baby arrived about 6 hours after my first contraction, I did some hopeful math concluding that Number 3 would arrive in just 3 short hours. Hooray! I had also figured that since Number 1 was 11 days overdue, but Number 2 was only 4 days overdue, well then Number 3 should pretty much arrive right on time, right? Um… no and no.
It is a mixed blessing the being overdue. Babies are much easier to take care of before they are born, but one gets anxious to meet their little girl. (I was 50% sure we’d have a girl). It’s a delicate waiting game, wanting to get on with it, but also enjoying the full ripe roundness of the belly and feeling the little kicks and not wanting to rush the little dude (I was 50% sure we’d have a boy).
There is something so very deflating about watching your due date come and go. As my pudgy little preggy fingers and toes swelled, my spirits shrank. I stopped remarking to people that I didn’t feel “nearly bloated and psycho enough yet to have a baby.”
Then late one night, ten days after my due date, I felt my first contraction. I got out of bed, did an hour or so of furious house cleaning, made sure the kids were well tucked in, brought the stereo upstairs and put on some groovy music. I lit some candles, paced around the bedroom a bit, and then stood swaying over my husband, staring intensely at him until he opened his eyes.
“Welcome to labour land,” I told him.
He took in my crazed expression, the swaying, the cleaning products, the candles and the tunes and appeared as if he might fall straight back asleep. But instead he sat up in bed and clapped his hands gleefully. We did some power nesting – put plastic sheets on the bed, turned up the hot water tank, he inflated the pool, and we both made sure the kids were tucked in, again. Then we decided to cuddle in bed, timing contractions and waiting for things to get more intense.
I couldn’t believe it when I opened my eyes to daylight the next morning and realized I wasn’t in labour anymore.
She was frustrated and disappointed, but it sure was nice to get a good night’s sleep. And as soon as we got up with the kids, labour started up again. Contractions were short and close together so we called Grandma, who had been eagerly on stand-by for weeks, to come get them. Our daughter is four and our son is seventeen-months old. We were pretty certain that they wouldn’t enjoy the special miracle of childbirth and knew we’d be able to relax knowing they were taken care of. Then we called the midwife to let her know that labour had started. We didn’t want her to come right away, but wanted to her to know that it was imminent.
I went upstairs to lie down and again, fell asleep and woke up conspicuously not in excruciating pain.
“Latent labour” is apparently very common for women who have had two or more children. This means that instead of contractions starting out mild and neatly progressing in length, frequency, and intensity as they did for my first two births, contractions started then randomly petered out, started up again, disappeared, reappeared, fizzled, futzed, and infuriated me for two whole days! It was horribly annoying and I am so glad we got to spend that time at home playing cards, dozing, and helping ourselves to what was in the fridge instead of being admitted and discharged repeatedly from a hospital.
We took the dog for a walk around the neighbourhood and, owing to an act of dog, went down a back alley we’d never gone down before. We discovered a labyrinth garden in a backyard with signs inviting passersby to walk it. We entered it from the East and read the description that it was the direction of dawn and birth!
It was all very magical, and much better than pacing a stinky hospital hallway full of sick, bored people. But it didn’t actually kick my labour up.
We made supper and played cards and Scrabble. I played “walleyes” and “hairnet” in the same game. I’ve never used all my letters twice in one game! It may have been my best game ever. She had a pot of raspberry and nettle tea. I had some red wine. Then we went to bed.
Mercifully, I woke up at about 3:00 a.m. on Sunday, November 15th, in the kind of labour during which one neither snoozes, nor plays Scrabble. Contractions weren’t close together but they were strong. I told hubby to call the midwife to come – I didn’t feel like chatting. Hubby filled the Mr. Fishy pool. I lay on my side and whimpered as contractions shook me down. She arrived very quickly. I asked her to rupture my membranes and then I wanted to get into the warm water. I’m not sure how long it all took but I know she checked me before I got in the pool and I was 5 cm.
Only half-way dilated! I couldn’t believe how much work was ahead of me. I was exhausted because it was the wee hours of the morning after only three hours of sleep. I’m not so much a morning person. I was tired from what seemed like days of labour, not to mention more than 41 weeks of pregnancy, and while my contractions were obviously strong, they were so far apart that I was worried they’d peter out again or weren’t effectively dilating me.
It hurt. It hurt a lot. I’m glad nobody was offering me a drip to speed things up or an epidural for the pain, because I’m pretty sure I would have taken them up on these things.
As it was, I worked through various scenarios in my head by which I could get out of my bedroom and to the nearest hospital for pain relief – perhaps the easiest way would be if a crane would lift off the roof so that I could be heli-lifted. We could fix the roof later, what was important was that I not feel another contraction. But, really, I knew that transferring to a hospital would be even worse torture than I was in now, and that drugs wouldn’t be good for the baby – that there was only one way out of this mess – letting my body do what it had to do to open up and then the sordid job of pushing.
I don’t know if one can labour peacefully, but she sure seemed zen-like to me. The midwife was gently pouring water over Marlene’s lower back while I held her hands during the contractions (my technique of water pouring was more like a drunk fisherman desperately bailing a swamped canoe).
It’s news to me that she was busy planning renos on the upstairs while I was catching up on minutes of delicious sleep between contractions.
At about 7:30 a.m., after more than four hours of hard labour, my contractions were still more than five minutes apart and less than a minute long. Between them, my husband was collapsing on the floor beside the birthing pool and snoring. Our elegant and unflappable Swedish midwife was sitting patiently by on her little stool, elegant and unflapped. The other midwife was dozing on the sofa downstairs. And I was fed up. I had had enough of this absurd pain, of this unrelenting chore. I stood up in the pool.
“This,” I announced to my labour team, “is bullshit.” I peeled off my sopping shirt and threw it on the ground with an emphatic slorp.
I was pissed. They weren’t nearly as concerned as they should be about how poorly everything was going. Baby could take another twenty-four hours to arrive, I conjectured. We might be doing this for days and days, I warned. “We should all be sleeping in our beds right now,” I insisted. “Something has got to change RIGHT NOW.”
They looked somewhat concerned.
“Perhaps you should sit on the toilet,” the midwife volunteered.
I sat through a couple of contractions there. I didn’t like them at all better than the ones in the pool. Then I flopped down on our cushy, wonderful, warm, familiar, beautiful bed and had what felt like one really long crazy contraction. It involved some intensely primal sounds that brought the second midwife sprinting up the stairs and ended with my baby in my arms.
A healthy girl. With lots of black hair. Her name is Josephine. She is so beautiful. And she smells so good. She was born at 7:50 a.m. after 5 minutes of active labour.
Marlene was just amazing. I can’t believe how quickly the baby came out when she started pushing. And so beautiful. All skinny arms and legs, grasping hands and big head of hair.
There is something very amazing about having a homebirth. It is hard to describe but being at home made it a natural and normal part of our life and existence rather than being a condition that needed the mediation of an institution. I have since learned that my great grandmother was a midwife in the early 1900’s and I feel a strange sense of connection to my ancestors, and the entire chain of life back to the first single celled organism that of course reproduced without medical intervention.
When we talk about homebirth people often imply that we’re flip or cavalier about birth. They assume that we aren’t worried or informed about risks and that for some strange reason, we just don’t realize that birth is a big deal.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Birth is a big deal. It’s a really big deal. That’s exactly why I think it should be done in the warmest, most comfortable, safest and most supportive environment possible.
One of the beautiful things about homebirth is that it was our job, it was part of the whole process for us to really focus on creating that environment in our home. I can’t think of any preparation more essential to the enormous task of parenting a newborn. It seems to me a matter of flow – the pregnancy, preparation for birth, the birth, recovery, and the parenting of our wee little girl flowed together seamlessly, with no interruptions or changes of venue. I wish I could better explain how very right that feels and why.
Having a home birth was very empowering to me as a man. I may never rotate the tires on my car or finish finishing the basement, but we had a baby at home, dammit! And we now have a very special Mr Fishy pool for her to splash about in in a couple of years. The midwives were extremely supportive. One of them whipped up a gourmet French toast and sausage breakfast with juice and served it to us in bed with the new baby! And we had fantastic pre and postnatal support and attention. We are so lucky to have support from a team of dedicated midwives for our entire course of care.
I didn’t miss anything about being in a hospital – I certainly didn’t miss the drive, or the patronizing check-in staff who always seem so annoyed with a woman for thinking it’s noteworthy that she’s about to have a freaking baby! I know birth happens many times a night where they work, but ‘chez nous’ it’s a special occasion. I didn’t miss the yucky food, the medical décor, or that hospital smell. There was no rotating staff or any unwanted interruptions. We didn’t even need to find a dog-sitter.
Don’t forget about how expensive it is to park at a hospital and how strange it is to drive home with a new little one, all excited, terrified and utterly transformed. The world seems like such a dangerous and aggressive place after having a new baby – the sun too bright, the wind too cold, the traffic too fast.
Life and death are such strange events and they knock us over when they occur. Then, invariably, we put one foot in front of the other and we even get dressed and maybe even brush our hair and head out the front door into the wide world. And it’s always so strange the way it is so utterly unphased – with the wind still blowing little brown leaves around the sidewalks and the clouds just hanging there, like, whatever, and the neighbour’s Shitzu yaking and people driving to work and to the grocery store. Don’t these people know what just happened?
Nope. They don’t. Just us. It was just us at the precipice of life and death looking over the edge and saying hello or goodbye to a whole person.
That’s why a homebirth is different – that great divide, that portal, that window into the next-world opens into your home. It opened into our bedroom, onto our bed, where we usually do such normal things.
And it was a BIG DEAL. It was awesome.
Marlene and Brent have three wee ones: Hazel (8), Oliver (5), and Josephine (4). They will celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary next summer and are still way in love. When not procreating, they enjoy outdoorsy things such as X-country skiing and fishing. Marlene is a writer and performer and Brent is a computers guy. Someday Brent would like to build an amphibious car/boat but Marlene isn’t so sure.