Saturday, April 21, 2012

Heiko's birth story

First a disclaimer/warning. You don’t need to read this!!! I loved reading birth stories throughout my pregnancy (for example The Baby Catcher or Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth), but I recognize that not everyone shares this passion. For you folks, here is a picture of Heiko at 5 days old.

It seems like a lot of birth stories begin by saying that the birth was nothing like what the parents expected. Heiko’s story begins exactly this way:  I would not have guessed in a million years that his beginning would be like this. One type of birth story that I never read with too much interest was the stories of very fast labours. Usually those stories are actually kind of nice, but I wanted to prepare myself mentally for a long labour, not a short labour. After all, first time mums are usually in labour for 12 - 24 hours, while second time mums may experience faster births. I also wanted to mentally prepare myself for unexpected circumstances.  Although Patrick and I were planning a home birth, I had heard enough stories from friends and acquaintances who said that they needed to transfer into the hospital for pain relief, or for other reasons. Our hospital bag was well packed just in case. As it turned out, it wouldn’t have mattered.

I started having mild contractions at around 3:30am on April 11. They were like menstrual cramps, and didn't bother me too much. I think they were probably every ten minutes or so. I took some Tylenol and slept in. The contractions continued throughout the day, and I basically went about with things as usual. We went for a walk in the park, and got our house nice and tidy just in case. I had a few other signs of early labour as well. Nevertheless, I was mentally preparing myself for days of this, or for a false start (for the contractions to disappear and resume days later). Still, I gave my midwife, Edan, a heads up. She told me to take a hot bath, two gravol and try to sleep.

We went to bed around 11pm. I don't know if I actually fell asleep, but pretty soon I was awake with the contractions, which were becoming more uncomfortable. I couldn't stay lying down through them, and found that being on hands and knees was better. I decided to start timing them, but I didn't wake Patrick. I wanted him to rest well for the event to come. Much to my surprise, after about 40 minutes of timing, I discovered that the contractions were about a minute long, but only 2 or 3 minutes apart. To be clear, that is 2 or 3 minutes from the beginning of a contraction to the beginning of the next. So in fact, there was only a minute or two between contractions.  This is when everything started to get pretty wacky. The contractions required the fullness of my attention. I couldn't focus enough to use the iPhone contraction timer, so I woke Patrick up. It was 1:30am. We timed a few more, but the intensity was ramping up so quickly, I hardly had time to think. I got him to page Edan. He was pretty groggy, having woken up to his wife in pretty rough shape. I probably should have woken him earlier.

Edan called back right away and "talked" to me through a few contractions. Of course I couldn't talk. I was making sounds I didn’t know I could make. It was intense, and I felt like it was all contraction all the time.  I wasn’t thinking at all. I was only experiencing the overpowering sensations in my body. I’m not sure I was able to communicate this to Edan on the phone. In any case, Edan said that she would make her way over. She talked to Patrick and told him to get me into the bathtub. This was at 1:45am.

Patrick ran me a bath (and also somehow made up the bed for the birth, cleared away the items on my dressing table to make way for the midwives equipment, and did a million other things too, plus he ran to me to rub my back through the intensity of the contractions -- total superhero mode), and I got in. Sort of. All I could do was kneel in the tub. The contractions were starting to change, and all I can say is that I remember feeling very.... open.

I tried to ease myself more into the water, and that’s when for some reason I reached down with my hand. My first thought was "how will Edan check my cervix with this thing in the way?" Yep. This "thing" was the baby's head, and it was on the way out. At that point there was some swearing and confusion as I tried to tell P what was going on. He got me to lift my chin and start panting, but it didn't do much. Through a few contractions I was even pushing back on the baby's head! I remember feeling relief that the labour was coming to an end. I think if my body were giving me any chance to rest I would have been scared, but as it was, there was no time to be frightened. There was no fighting it, and soon I flipped over in the tub and the baby’s head was out. Patrick called 911. I watched the baby’s head turn sideways (underwater) to allow the shoulders room to pass through the pelvis, this was truly surreal to see, and just phenomenally amazing in retrospect. In another contraction the rest of the baby was out, and I caught him and brought him to my chest. Suddenly I was holding a very purple, very quiet tiny human. It was nuts, and I was in total shock. I didn’t have time to think about what to do. The baby shortly started crying however, and he pinked right up... that's when we discovered he was a little boy! The 911 dispatcher got us to rub him down with towels, which made him even more active.

Edan arrived only three minutes later. I was still crouched in the tub, and definitely in shock, but holding a seemingly healthy baby in my arms. Patrick was on the phone with the 911 dispatcher, and Edan took the phone and was able to assure them that everything was fine. And everything was fine! From there, Edan took charge, leading me to the bedroom to examine me and the baby, and to deliver the placenta. What is sort of interesting is that I had some trouble delivering the placenta. Edan could tell that I was still having contractions, but I didn’t know how or where to push. In no way had I pushed this little baby out of me. He just came out. But eventually I managed a good strong push and the placenta was out. Not pushing our baby out also meant that I didn’t tear at all, which has made the recovery a little more straightforward.

I’d also like to emphasize Patrick’s role in the adventure. From his perspective, he was woken up from a deep slumber at 1:30 am, and less than an hour later he became a father. He did so much, remembering to check the colour of the amniotic fluid (we thought my water may have broken before getting into the tub), reminding me to focus, giving me things to focus on, making eye contact with me and just being right there when I needed him. He stayed so calm throughout the whole thing. Probably some credit is also due to Penny Simkin’s The Birth Partner, which Patrick read.

After all the examinations, the vitamin K shot, a breastfeeding lesson, and the most delicious cup of tea ever, Edan and the student midwife Kama gave us all hugs, and tucked us into bed. So began our life as a family.

And that is the story of my precipitous birth, the unattended accidental water-birth. It was beautiful and joyous, but also terrifying, primal, and pure instinct. I think I was honestly in shock for four or five days after the birth, but writing down some of the details has helped process it somewhat. And life with Heiko is amazing. Amazing! But that’s a whole other story.


  1. Such a great story, Elissa! I love your writing too. Patrick really is amazing (and so are you!). I'm glad everything worked out magically.

    Can't wait to hear/see more about how you all are doing as new parents! I hope to visit you guys someday soon.

    Sending you guys lots of love!

  2. This is an absolutely incredible birth story - my midwife's already been telling me: your body knows what to do, even when you don't...
    This is proof! And having a "superhero" partner certainly helps. I'm getting Chris that book RIGHT NOW!
    Much love and Heiko is PERFECT...can't wait to meet him in person!

  3. Thanks Mike and Sally!
    Nothing has made me more appreciative and in awe of my body that this whole pregnancy, birth and motherhood process. It is truly unbelievable.
    Can't wait for visits!

  4. Elissa: thanks for sharing this. It is a pretty special birth story, to say the least.