We are thrilled to share this amazing Birth Story as the first installment in our B.S. series.
Written by Hannah Sieveking
Having been questioned by friends over the course of my last two pregnancies and births on why I would want a natural birth, I have contemplated much on this subject, and have come up with a simple answer. I want to feel my babies being born. I want to experience it, in all its glory, in all its agony, in all its torment, and in all its beauty. I want the rollercoaster—the ride, if you will, that takes you up and down through a cascade of emotions that only childbirth can do. I’ve never felt so alive in my life as when delivering life from my very own body. I’ve cried, I’ve moaned, I’ve laughed, and I’ve even vomited, and all of it just fits into this piece of a magnificent puzzle that wouldn’t be whole without it. After having given birth twice now, to two girls (who knows if there will be a third?), I have had two very different but equally splendid births.
The Birth of Olive
Olive’s begins with me knowing I want to try a natural birth, but having reservations about whether I can do it. Months of reading about “rushes” and “surges” in Ina May Gaskin’s books about natural childbirth give me some perspective on what to expect, as much as one can anyway. Inspired by those birth stories and also my mother’s (whom we lost the previous year), I develop a respect and curiosity for those women telling their stories, and begin to think I want to experience something similar. And so it goes…
Awoken at 2 am by “rushes” after a lovely night of birthday festivities at my husband Cam’s sister’s house, I am propelled to get in the tub for relief, or at least confirmation that the moment is real. A feeling I would liken to the ever too familiar and unwelcome monthly visitor known as menstrual cramps (but multiplied by ten), it does not end, but rather grows stronger, and so my suspicions that this could be labor grow stronger. Frequent visits to the loo just add to this suspicion, as a friend once told me this can be a sign of labor (nature’s enema before birth). The sight of just a spot of blood in the toilet sends me into a whirl of excitement, as I now can confidently pack my hospital bag because this baby’s a comin! My “rushes” are no longer subtly hinting at the nearing birth, but shouting emphatically, “today is the day!” So I wake my husband, tired and groggy from a very short, two hour stretch of sleep and too much fun at his sister’s, and he stumbles to the shower, in an attempt to refresh and revive himself. I struggle to pack my bag, as my thoughts are clouded by the growing intensity of contractions. These “rushes” have me almost on my knees, just minutes after their start, and Cam helps me to the car with little to nothing in my hospital bag. Headed to his sister’s house so that she can drive us (Cam had one too many brewskis at dinner), I am wriggling and writhing with each contraction, overwhelmed and a bit surprised (even after all the reading), at how intense they really are. Joanna appears out of the dark, barreling down her driveway towards our car, ready to take the driver’s seat. Forty-five minutes of driving in the dark, the roads quiet, my mind is racing with anticipation and my veins pumping with adrenaline. No talking, just breathing, heavy breathing. Pulling on the handle at the ceiling, I lift myself out of the seat with each contraction. Can I do this? Pulling up to the hospital, I am greeted by a wheelchair, and I climb in, relieved, and as I make the transition from car to wheelchair, a gush of water leaves me stunned and slightly embarrassed at the mess I’ve made. The flow never stops as I am wheeled down the hall, concerned about the trail I am leaving behind. Cam helps me into my robe, and a very uncomfortable cervical check reveals that I am 5 centimeters dilated. I labor on the bed as the nurse asks me various questions and fills out paper work. I begin to dread each coming contraction, as I can feel them begin to build, and I brace myself by squeezing Cam’s hand with both of mine. I squeeze and pull down on his hand so hard that I find myself cattywampus in the bed. We had planned on having only the two of us present for Olive’s birth, but Joanna appears at my side, and I am relieved to have her there, as she is a nurturer by nature and has also been down this road a few times herself. She and Cam exchange glances that silently say they wish they could help me in some way.
Upon my second very uncomfortable cervical check I learn that I am nine and a half centimeters dilated, and I beg the nurse to “just push it back” (it being my cervical lip), so I can get on with pushing. I had read that pushing can be relief from the contractions, and with my first push, I find this to be true. Knees up to my ears, chin to chest, and holding my breath as instructed, I give a push while the nurses count to ten. “Push!” exclaim the faces around me. “1,2,3,…” and I repeat for what seems like an eternity. More breathing, counting, grunting, I glance at the clock, wondering how long I’ve been at this. Over an hour. The midwife asks me if she can perform an episiotomy, and I respond by giving the biggest push yet. There’ll be no cutting on these lady parts. I can do this. I strain so hard, I honestly believe my eyes are going to pop out of my head. After just a couple more pushes, Olive’s head begins to emerge, and the remarks flow about all her dark hair. The midwife styles Olive’s hair into a Mohawk as I lie there staring at the ceiling, listening to the giggles all around me. Thirty seconds of rest between contractions and back to pushing, I am struggling to catch my breath, and finally an instant feeling of relief! Her head is out! I reach down for her, thinking I’m done, but realize I still have to deliver her body, and with one light push, the rest of her tiny slippery figure reveals itself. Yes! I’m done! I am instantly reenergized and have an adrenaline rush like I’ve never experienced. The faces around me disappear, as I zero in on the face of my daughter, swollen and flushed, from the journey through my birth canal. She is laid upon my chest, and I feel her nakedness, soft and warm and sprawled across my torso. I am a mother. Just a few short hours after my first contraction, and at 5:45 am on Mother’s Day and also Joanna’s birthday, I delivered a beautiful baby girl. What a special day.
The Birth of Violet
Minutes after Olive’s birth, this fear struck me that I might have to do this again one day – a sentiment I’m sure most women feel immediately after. Of course, a week later my thoughts began to evolve into something more like it wasn’t that bad or it was hard work but really worth it, and so just over a year later I found myself staring at those two lines on a stick again. Because my birth with Olive went so smoothly and quickly, I began planning a homebirth this time. My mother had birthed us at home, and it felt like the right thing to do this time. While met with various reactions from friends upon hearing my plans, ranging from concerned to “are you crazy?” Cam was all about it, and so I contacted my friend who had recently had a homebirth, and she put me in touch with her homebirth midwife. And so it went…
The birth of Violet begins with me lying in the bed, thinking back on the enjoyable night I had just had at a friend’s wedding. I stare at the monitor, surprised Olive has not stirred, as she is still not sleeping through the night. I doze for a few hours, off and on, checking the monitor periodically. I am restless and uncomfortable, and I lie in the dark next to Cam, realizing my Braxton Hicks are what’s keeping me awake. I think nothing of it, as I’ve been having painless Braxton Hicks for weeks. Time passes slowly as I try to rest, but it occurs to me this tightening in my abdomen is becoming rather rhythmic. Still painless, but rhythmic, I time them – six to seven minutes apart. Could this be the start? This is not how it started with Olive, I think to myself. Tired of lying in the bed awake, I decide to get up and move about and see if anything changes. Oh! Ten minutes of walking around, and I’m now having something more closely resembling contractions, even if mild. It’s a bright, sunny spring morning as light begins to fill the rooms in the house, waking Olive and Cam from their slumber. I mention to Cam casually that I may be having contractions. No need to rush, I assure him, but we begin to prepare the house for what could be happening today. I call my neighbor and sister-in-law, Molly, and tell her today may be the day, and that I really want my house to be clean and in order, so she comes over to help me while Cam goes on a hunt for a hose adaptor for our birthing pool. I text my homebirth midwife, Doreen, and let her know I believe I may be in very early stages of labor. I say goodbye to Olive, as we’ve arranged to have my brother, Matthew, keep her for the day. I watch her leave, saddened to think that she will no longer be the center of my everything. I had spent the last few months worrying, as most mothers do, that I would not love my second child as fiercely as I loved my first. I would love her, yes, and I would be excited to be giving Olive a sister, but how on Earth could I ever love someone as much as Olive? She disappears out the door, unaware of how immensely her life is about to change.
My mind moves to the things still undone - the mess in my living room that still needs cleaning. Molly scrubs dishes and unloads the dishwasher as I pick up toys off the floor, and we laugh and joke for a while as we clean. Cam returns with just what we need for the birth pool, and I am relieved to know that is taken care of. I realize I haven’t eaten and my stomach is grumbling, so I take a break to have a turkey sandwich and sweet potato chips, followed by a giant glass of water. Contractions are coming on stronger now – just enough to make me pause at what I’m doing and breathe a bit. I text my midwife, Doreen, again, and let her know that I think it’s really happening today, and so she makes her way to my house. Knowing my last birth went very quickly, she doesn’t want to waste any time.
Birth pool filling, sounds of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon playing in the background, my family and I enjoy each other’s company as I continue the course… pace, pause and breathe, pace, pause and breathe. Hours pass. Doreen and Avie have arrived and prepared everything for Violet’s arrival. The mood is light, and I am still smiling and talking, as I pace the room between contractions. I am blessed to have a very close knit group to support me this time around – Joanna again, of course (we joked about her being my doula this time), and Cam’s other sister, Jackie, along with Delaney (Jackie’s daughter), and my sister-in-law Molly, who has now been with me all day. With each cervical check, I am dilated another two centimeters, until I reach almost complete – about nine and half centimeters. I am surprised at how easy it has been up to this point, as I am up and moving around between contractions, enjoying the process. A short stay in the birthing pool slows things down a bit, and so I get out and continue pacing. I begin to grow anxious, ready to get to the pushing phase, as I think back on Olive’s birth and how quickly it went. But with plans to labor down this time and do mother directed pushing, rather than coached pushing, as I did with Olive, I wait for that urge to push to come. More time passes, and as the day grows dark, my mood changes and I begin to feel tired. Contractions grip me, bringing me to my knees and sometimes my back. Then my side. Nope. back to my knees, leaning over the birthing ball. Position changes fail to quiet the drumming that fills my hips and torso. Doreen throws two sheets over the beam that spans our living room, creating a make shift birth swing. I pull myself into it, resting my back and shoulders against it, while my hips sway beneath me in an instinctual motion to bring baby down. Molly and I had joked about this scene in the days leading up to the birth, and now here I was, all joking aside, suspended above the floor, naked-bottomed and free, aware of only myself in this moment. Seeking comfort still, I move to the mattress on the floor, and try to get some rest on my side. Hands all over me, massaging my back, my feet, my shoulders, I am unaware of who is stationed where, just grateful for their touch. A brief squat on the handmade wooden birth stool supplied by Doreen sends my body into a fierce wave of intensity, heavy and nauseating. My body jerks forward as I begin to heave and retch until I eject all of the water I consumed earlier. Delaney holds my hair back, and Jackie swiftly comes to the rescue, placing a bowl in front of me just in time. Then in the same motion, my bladder unleashes like a broken dam, and I cannot stop the flood, as I sit on the stool and let go of any control that I thought I may have possessed just moments before. The pressure is immense.
Back on the bed, I begin to push a little, gradually getting stronger with each push. Doreen discovers there is still a slight cervical lip in the way, and reaches around a bulging bag to hold it back as I push. Wooosh! Finally, my water breaks, soaking Doreen and Cam and everything else in its path. Doreen informs me that “things are going to get more intense now”, and I think, what?!? Nooooo! But with that next contraction it is clear that she is right. The power overwhelms me, as I begin to feel the baby come down my birth canal. The intensity of each contraction still renders me nauseous, as I struggle to find the natural rhythm of pushing that my body secretly knows but my mind still doesn’t. Can I do this? I don’t remember it being this hard. As I stare at the ceiling, my mind goes to my mother who did this three times, and I pray for strength. Finally, I find that perfect moment in my contraction, where it has just peaked and almost beginning to wane, that my body is most efficient in moving the baby down. “Whoa, there you go!!!” exclaims Doreen, and then I am asked to hold on, just as Violet’s head crowns, so as to stretch and not to tear. Sounds escape me which I cannot control, and I exclaim desperately that it burns. Joanna and Molly gripping my hands, and Cam and Jackie gripping my feet, I push with all my might, and as Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion” plays in the background - just two more pushes, and Violet comes sailing Earthside, straight into her daddy’s arms. That old familiar feeling of instant relief floods my body, and I reach for Violet. I bring her to my chest and stare at her face, peaceful and inquisitive. Oh Violet, how wrong I was. Instant, overflowing, ferocious love overtakes me, and I feel as though I’ve known her all along. Cord still pulsating, we wait until it has delivered every last drop of life to her tiny body to make that final cut and our separation complete. She finds her way to the breast, and I am intoxicated by the sweet moment we share, as I scan her head to toe, marveling at her perfection. Thank you, Violet, for choosing me as your mom. Thank you, Doreen, for being a sanctuary, a temple of trust, and thank you, Cam, Joanna, Jackie, Molly, and Delaney for holding, massaging, squeezing, and embracing. Thank you, Mother, for being an inspiration and giving me strength. Thank you, Olive, for making me a mother.
* I wanted to add a side note, addressing a couple major differences between home birth and hospital birth that, to me, made enough difference that I would choose home over hospital again:
- The prenatal care is far superior, as your midwife will likely spend at least an hour with you each time you meet, and discuss things far beyond just your pregnancy and health. It can become a sort therapy session in some ways, which was great for me since I was feeling a lot of guilt about my first born not being my only baby anymore. You will likely want to stay in touch with your midwife even after birth, which makes sense, after all, having been through such a big life event together - it just makes sense.
- The newborn well exam done right after birth is also a major difference, as this is typically done well into the second hour of a home birth, as opposed to pretty much right away in the hospital. And a midwife-led well exam is so gentle and sweet, you’ll just watch in awe of her tender and knowing touch. As Rebecca Coursey said “our hospitals and our OBs could learn so much from the wise, tender ways of midwifes.”