The Birth of Franki
(The long story of a short birth)
It’s not many times in our life that we confront our worst fear, only to realize that it’s really not so scary.
In fact, that confrontation led to the most transformative day in my life so far. The birth of my son, Jake, 18 months earlier was transformative in that it made me a mother, with all that motherhood implies. Forever more, I share my heart with my son. The birth of my daughter connected me to a power I was unaware I possessed, and gave me a knowledge of myself that has altered the bedrock of my self-esteem. I will never say, “I can’t do it” to myself again in this life.
On 19 January, my husband, who had been suffering with a flare-up of a chronic illness, was admitted to hospital by his specialist. I was 6 days past my due date. I left James with a close friend and his father at Mount Sinai Hospital, to wait for a bed to become available. I was going to try and make it to my appointment with one of our midwives, Marlene.
After having a melt-down in her office, she told me what I wanted to hear at the time: there’s no way you’ll be in labour any time soon, the baby will wait for James to be home. I went home, and after reassuring my mother that Jake and I would be just fine, and no she didn’t need to stay the night “just in case” she went on her way home. Now I feel that the baby was waiting for James to be cared for so that I could focus on her birth.
**I didn’t keep very close track of time, so from here out things are just estimates as I remember them. It is also interesting to note that I am a birth doula, and that January 20 is my birthday.
Some time after midnight, still sleeping, I became aware that my surges were stronger than my usual warm-up surges had been over the course of the last few weeks. At some points I recall getting out of bed to breathe through surges, only to lie back down and sleep in between. Around 2 am I woke enough to have my practical brain switch on: if I was in labour, I was also alone with my son, and should probably mobilize the team. My mom was going to watch Jake for the duration of the birth, and lived almost an hour away. Also, I had an empty birth tub in the living room that wouldn’t fill itself.
After calling my mom, and Jennifer, my doula, to come, I contacted the nurse’s station at Mount Sinai in the vain hope that James might be able to come home. The nurse on duty was sympathetic, but strongly advised that coming home, even for a short time, would be unwise. I’m sure now that I needed to hear from James that he wouldn’t be able to be with me in order to proceed with the birth.
After some wrestling with parts for the birth tub (I wasn’t really paying attention to the instructions when they were given), breathing through surges as I went, I was able to get the tub filling, and have a bite to eat. Jennifer arrived at some point not long after I called for her, and we ate and puttered.
Two important things then happened. First, James called to say that he was not strong enough to get home – he had barely had the strength to get to hospital and get settled – and he just wouldn’t be able to be with me, no matter how heartbroken we were about it. Tears, tears and more tears. Second, my mother arrived, and thought that she would stay with me, rather than go home with Jake as we had originally planned. I was conflicted about this, as I thought I might want my mom to stay since James wasn’t here, but I really did not want my son present. I didn’t say anything about this, and we continued to putter and I continued to breathe and move through my surges as they came, though they seemed to be coming less frequently.
At a reasonable time we called Marlene to let her know that things were getting started, and she agreed to stay in the east end, but she didn’t seem convinced that today was the day, due to the erratic pattern my surges were taking. My mom took Jake out for his play group, and I tried to rest while they were gone. My surges were still strong enough that I had to stand up and move to breathe through them, and I noticed that there was a strange pulling sensation in the front of my lower belly with each surge. They were still slowing, and coming less and less frequently. I was beginning to have doubts that this babe would ever come, and wondered if I was trying to force it because I was feeling so emotionally exhausted and worried for James, and guilty that I had gotten everyone out of bed at such a horrible hour of the night.
Jennifer and I discussed my fears and I decided I would ask my mom to take Jake to her house as we had planned. My mom must have known – when she returned with Jake (I think this was around noon-ish), she said that they would in fact go home and would come back as soon as the babe had arrived.
When they left, Jennifer and I discussed what to do. I voiced my relief that my mother had done what we agreed to – I really didn’t feel I could labour with Jake at home. Jennifer called Marlene to give her an update, and she asked if perhaps we wanted to call off the birth for now. Neither Jennifer nor I were quite ready to give up, so we decided that I would lie down and sleep, as would she, and we would just see what came about. If it was my “birth” day, so be it, but if not, that was fine too.
I laid down with Jennifer’s hypnosis CD playing on my headphones and listened to “Affirmations for Birth” on repeat. I did sleep, but would stand up or kneel to breathe through surges as they came. I noticed that the affirmations were 7 minutes long, and while I was resting found that surges began coming faster, to the point that they were coming 2 or 3 in each playing of the chapter.
I came out of the bedroom and got into the shower. Jennifer seemed to know that I really wanted to be alone (not that I wanted her going anywhere!) during this part of my labour. I stayed in the shower until the hot water ran out, spending most of the time on hands and knees, as this alleviated the strong pulling I was feeling in the front of my belly. I laboured, cried out my fear and disappointment, and finally, let my body take over.
Jennifer and I both felt that I started active labour while I was in the shower. She was so wonderfully respectful of my need to be alone for a time – I knew she was there, and she did come into the bathroom at one point to let me know that, but she gave me the space I needed to come into my birth.
When I was forced out of the shower by the hot water tank, I knew it was time to call Marlene, not only because we felt she was needed, but I wanted to get into the birth tub badly. Jen and I were both feeling slightly superstitious that it may slow my labour again. Marlene wisely advised me not to waste a hot tub, and that she would arrive shortly. There was some rush to her arrival as I was Beta Strep positive, and had decided that I would receive antibiotics to treat it.
I laboured in the tub quite happily – the heat was so relaxing, and I found my surges almost easy in the water. Marlene arrived and we decided it was probably a good idea to see where we were in terms of dilation, as she needed to call the second midwife, Andrea at some point.
She assessed me to be a conservative 7-8 cms that was very stretchy with minimal cervix. I was elated! After a 24 hour labour with my son, to be this close to giving birth was a dream. After making a phone call to Andrea, there was some discussion about the antibiotics. We decided to try and get one dose in before it came time to breathe the baby down. However, by the time Marlene had the IV set up and the antibiotics dosed, I was grunting with each surge. Our plan was nixed, as my membranes had not yet released, and I really didn’t want to try to hold still to accommodate an IV.
As the babe moved down, I breathed and worked with the surges, feeling completely drawn into myself. I was aware that Andrea arrived at some point, and that I wanted a cold cloth and popsicles from the freezer, which Jennifer just kept bringing. I was still feeling a strong pulling sensation with each surge that seemed to be preventing me from working effectively with my body, and was wishing aloud for my membranes to release, as I was finding the pressure to be challenging to cope with.
I do recall a discussion about how cool it would be to have a babe born “in the caul” as it was very rare, and lucky for the babe (if you’re a sailor anyhow). My doula self agreed it would indeed be a cool detail to share with my peers, and then promptly changed my mind at the next surge! I recall laughing out loud several times, and crying as well. I remember Marlene being right there with me in my tears to agree that it sucked that James couldn’t be with me, and that he was missing the birth of his child. It was a very womanly time in an easy, earthy way – just a group of women celebrating a birth and coping with a less-than-ideal situation as honestly as we could, trying to experience and acknowledge it, rather than suppress any part of it. I am so grateful for the support and love I received that day.
Andrea suggested that pulling sensation I was feeling might be caused by a cervical lip. Marlene asked if she could check it out, as the baby seemed not to be progressing down, despite really effective work with the surges. She did find an anterior lip and felt that she could push it back. I recall that surge being really difficult, as I had to lean back to give Marlene enough room to maneuver, which exaggerated the pulling sensation I was feeling. However, it was a great relief as my membranes ruptured during the same surge, and my cervix moved back to let the babe’s head come down.
It was only a few surges until I could feel the babe’s head on the perineum, and Marlene could see her black hair. During this stage I remember having to lean back, as there really wasn’t anywhere to “get a grip” to push down with the final few surges. Jennifer was behind me, supporting me physically and emotionally – I remember hearing her voice in my ear telling me how strong and amazing I was, helping me to find the strength for the last few surges, and Marlene and Andrea were cheering me on in front. Franki was born at 4:35 pm over an intact perineum. I was offered the truly wonderful task of cutting her cord. The final reward in a short, lovely birth.
James returned home from hospital after ten days, though he was thrilled to see photos that Jennifer had taken of the birth, and our gorgeous girl, while he was still “inside”.
I am still, weeks later, overwhelmed by the joy and victory I felt in that moment. The most challenging day, and I had a healthy, beautiful 8 pound daughter to add to our lovely family. Such a gift that no birthday will ever be the same. Jennifer, Marlene and Andrea I thank you with the fullest of my heart, and my mom as well, for always being there, and for loving Jake as only his Grandma can.