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Friday Flow: Carolina ~ A Free Birth Story

Unassisted…it sounds so harsh and lonely. I don’t know how the term came to be or why women accept it?  There are many problems with the language around birth and this is another one. There is no such thing as unassisted childbirth…there is a mother and a baby working together to birth in the way that feels best for them.  I have heard this type of birth referred to as free birth. I feel much better about calling my daughter’s birth a free birth. Free of medical industry, free of low or high risks, free of strangers, free of fear.

It’s 6:30 Monday morning. My man Dan is already up and at ’em getting ready for work. I lay in bed wishing I didn’t have to pee so bad.  Then it happens. I have to poo. A sensation I’d been waiting for for two days. Without hesitation I make my way to the washroom. Sparing you the bowel movement marathon details, time passes Dan knocks and asks if I’m okay…my huffing and puffing is distracting him from his cheerios. I respond with a snarky “No! I’m not okay!”

“Should I stick around?”

Why? Are you gonna wipe? I don’t actually say what’s on my mind.  “No! No…I’ll be fine!” I’m still moody. He leaves for work.  Fast forward half an hour. I’m finally washing my hands. I attempt to go back to my bed debating whether  to make it  and get on with my day or climb back in for 5 minutes before my sons need to be up for school. All of a sudden the mother of all sensations ripples over my entire being. I drop to my hands and knees, I’m neither coping nor resisting…I’m simply roaring from the depths of my soul. In that moment I’m hotter than the sun. When it ends…it takes a second for my brain to comprehend the meaning of what my body has been experiencing. I laugh out loud. “Damn! I’m not constipated…I’m havin’ my baby!” I shake my head at myself, and slightly also because my man’s gonna have an “I told you so” moment.

I stand up. The pressure is instantly heightened. Back down I go. I crawl to my bedroom. Rising up onto my bed is challenging, but I manage. I’m side lying, 3 weeks early, with my doula vacationing in Florida, no birth pool or home birth kit, no bellycast, no blessingway, no idea that none of it matters. Birth is simple if you let it be. But I only come to understand this now…after. A million thoughts race through my head in the form of a to-do list:

Text Dan, Call the school & say the boys will be absent, call Jen my photographer, call my best friend Sonia…she can be our doula, where are those towels I put away for the water birth? What can I use for the cord? A bowl for the placenta, candles would be nice and can burn the cord. Another sensation comes. I grip the rope handle on the side of my mattress, rock back and forth, and chant “ohm” from somewhere deep in my bottomless core. Many more come and go, my to do list becomes 4 words. Dan, Jen, Sonia, School. I stay side-lying. In all I know, all I’ve read, all I’ve taught…it’s Penny Simkin beside me at this moment. Relaxation, Rhythm, Ritual. Another one comes. I’m drumming now…softly, palm to hip. It’s magic.

PLEASE COME HOME! Delivered. I’m blowing up his phone and I can’t reach him. My man. Jen knows it’s on. Sonia knows it’s on. The school knows it’s on! My man is probably covered in sawdust, music blastin’ under his ear protection wishin’ he had finished his cheerios. I call his boss. Finally Dan is on the line. I say “We’re having a baby today.”

“Are you sure?” ‘I told you so’ would have been better received…

“YES! I’m sure. Please come home!” Click. Another one comes and goes.

I hear the dozy drag of little feet in the kitchen. “Winston?” He shows up.

“Hi Mom”

“Good morning love. Guess what?” His eyes twinkle.

“What?”

“We’re having our baby today.”  The akward smile that means he’s weighing his options appears.

“It’s the same day we’re pressing apples at the Community Eco Garden.” Tough Choice for a Kindie who’s about to become ‘the middle child.’ Lucky for him his best friend’s mom is the founder of the garden, and has access to the apple press.

“I bet we can organize a private apple press party, think of all the cider!” He chooses to stay home and he’s already running to share the news with his big brother. Nesta is beside me now. We share a knowing look. “Can you run me a bath?” He nods yes and just as he reaches the hallway I call him back. “Perfectly warm. Please make it perfectly warm.” He smiles. I pray he understands the importance. Another one comes.

I am full. Volatile sensation that cannot be contained. The pain comes from the tension of the opposites. I want to contain it, I’m afraid of the eruption; and I want to explore the vastness of my culmination. I’m inside the womb of consciousness. Primal Birth. Each sensation more powerful than the last sends me further and further into the sacred space that emerges behind my eye lids and spans through my third eye. A bead of sweat trickles off my nose onto my hand and I am present. Nesta is here again. My bath is full too.

My bathtub is in the master bedroom that Winston and Nesta share. I navigate a small maze of Lego, road hockey equipment and gamer gadgets. I peel off my pj’s, dip my toes. It’s perfectly warm. I submerge all five feet ten inches of myself into the water. I’m side-floating in water birth paradise.  I smile as I think of my best friend Sonia playing the part of Jillian in Karen Brody’s play ‘Birth.’ ‘Oh Diana! We have got to spread the word about water!’ That line is exactly how I feel. All women should birth in water. Another one comes. I keep my eyes open now, my sons are beside me. I am still chanting with the rushes, but I am not afraid, I am embracing my amazing body, I am surrendering to this power, I am so happy I begin to cry. My boys look worried. “I’m safe.” I say.

Many more come and go and I can feel the energy shifting. My man is here. He looks worried. “What can I do?” I have been waiting for somebody to ask me that question all morning!

“Call Jen and tell her to come now. Set up the red pullout couch. Move the table behind the brown couch next to the pullout. Grab the towels under the bathroom sink. Bring the stainless steel bowl to the table. Find the candles in one of the drawers in the kitchen.” Another one comes. Dan squats beside the bathtub and rubs my back. “No don’t rub me!” It’s too much. I can’t handle any more than this. “Hold my hand. No don’t rub it hold it! Please Dan be strong for me!” I open my eyes.  “Oh God Dan, please take off that shirt!” It says COME HELL OR HIGH WATER Alberta Flood Relief. “I can’t have the word HELL in my face!” Days later my eldest son will  tell me “You’re bossy when you’re having a baby mom.”

I have this vision. My birth vision, and it doesn’t look as unprepared as the scene I am seeing in this moment. Dan is getting to his tasks and I realize I need to let it go. I call for him. He’s by my side right away. “Is the pullout set up?” That’s all I care about. It’s Gloria Lemay beside me now. Have a bed made up near the birth pool for after the baby is born.

“Yes.”

“Don’t worry about anything else, just stay beside me.” He smiles at me and we kiss. Another one comes.

Click-click. Jen is here.  We talked about the sound of the shutter on her camera before the birth. I didn’t know how I’d react. I think it’s okay. “Hi Jen.”

“Hi Tanya. I’m not here unless you say my name.” Click-click

“Okay.”

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They come, they go. I’m coping, I’m not. I’m chanting, I’m yelling. Click-click. I’m kissing Dan. Eyes closed, eyes open. My sons, my man. Click-click. Too hot, too cold. Cold cloth. Running water. Fan.  Chapstick. Click-click. “I’m not ready!” “I’m ready to meet my baby!” Slow inhales. Panting. Click-click. Calm. Panic. Strength. Fear. Over and over and over. It gets to me. Click-click

“Oh God Dan. It’s too much. It’s too fast. Maybe I should get out of the tub” I sit up and look around the room. Every option seems like such a feat. Another one comes. There’s no time to prepare. No slow build-up. Just mountain after mountain to summit. How many more mountains?! I’m in my head. Fear and doubt make me consider checking my cervical dilation. Gloria Lemay whispers to me…regard yourself in one of two conditions while in labour. 2 centimetres or there’s a head…everything in between is irrelevant. Another one comes.

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My whole body is shuddering because I am too busy being a midwife to open fully to the magic happening. I have to know! It’s not irrelevant to me Gloria! How many more mountains?!!!! I reach inside…there’s a head!

“Oh GOD Dan! She’s right there!!!” Another one comes. I’m shaking my head no. I’m conscious of this. My body trembles. I want to say YES YES YES but my mind is frantic. Latham Thomas whispers to me… PUSH…Pray Until Something Happens. 

I’m praying. Sacred Birth Keeper Stephanie Dawn is beside me.

Great Mother Earth I call upon you now. Arch Angel Michael I call upon you now.  Spirits of the sacred elements Earth, Water, Wind & Fire I call upon you now. Great Gods & Goddesses I call upon you now. All mothers before me I call upon you now. Please calm these waters. Bring me peace and clarity so that I have strength, wisdom and trust. Guide my baby gently and give her safe passage earth side. This birth be a blessing to all those involved. And so it is… Another one comes.

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I rise up to my knees and I feel my baby so vividly. It’s too powerful. I hold back. Then again, I slow my body. Dan says just the right thing…”You know what to do.” With the next rush her head is born. My breath is pounding in my ears. The only two things in the universe in this moment are my breath and my baby. I reach behind me and check for a cord. Then a beautiful lull…a sacred moment. Suspension between two worlds. Another one comes…

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Dan rises quickly. “What do I do?”

“Pass her through!” In the beauty and intensity of the moment I birthed her into empty waters. Dan passes her to me between my legs and I bring her to my breast. I recognize her. I look into her eyes and say “Hi.”

She’s lost between places. The time is so slow. For so many moments we wait for her to be here. We hold our breath while we wait for her to take her first…I’ve seen this before. A grey baby. What did she do?…what did she do? The midwife? I rub the bottom of my baby’s feet. There is fear surrounding us. I look up. Dan is rocking, agitated , softly mumbling ‘Oh my God what do we do Tanya? What do we do?’ He doesn’t know that I’m already doing what we do! The time stands still…

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I’m looking right into her eyes, yet she doesn’t seem to see me. I’m alone. I’m not. ‘What do we do Tanya? What do we do?’  “DAN!!!” I look him dead in the eyes. “WE’RE SAFE!!!”

Click-click. I look up. “Rub her back” Jen whispers. “Try rubbing her back.”

It’s magic. She cries and coughs and pinks right up. Feet are for midwives to rub. I’m too busy being a midwife. Mothers cuddle and whisper and rub and stimulate in our own way. There’s no midwives at a free birth, so why am I trying to be one?

Was it Nesta who asked? “Is it a boy or a girl?” I can’t look. I never trusted that it was my intuition and not sheer desire that felt so strongly that this soul child was my daughter. I look at Dan. He nods and leans over us then whispers “It’s our daughter…”

I’m overwhelmed with emotion.

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The tears bathe with my sweat and before too long an unpleasant feeling sweeps over me. I’m going to faint. “Dan can you get me some juice?” This is my fear. Third stage. The midwife is back.  The water is turning red. I drink juice. I need to get out of this bathtub. The pullout in the living room seems miles away. I’m going to have to get into Winston’s bed. Dan prepares the bed. Nesta puts the kettle on for my raspberry leaf, shepherd’s purse and nettle tea. Winston is still beside me mesmerized by his baby sister. I’m fading. How am I going to get out of the bathtub? Dan is beside me strong as ever, but I need more. I look up…Sonia is smiling at me. She is my angel. Together we all move to the bed.

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I feel like shit. Weak and scared. The pain of the contraction is unreal. I’m sweating buckets. Deep cramping beating up my insides and still no placenta. Sonia is singing, holding the space. Her presence calms me. My womb is wrenched and wicked I moan and curse and still no placenta. How much longer? My tea is ready, I drink it willing myself to stay present, stay strong. Sonia is looking between my legs, her calm face changes. “How much blood is there Sonia?” I’m too weak to sit up.

“Quite a bit…”

“How many cups?” Gloria Lemay is back.

“A few…” I scan the room…Winston, Nesta, Sonia, Jen and Dan. Not one person knows the normal amount of blood after birth. I’m scared. I try to sit up. The duvet feels like quick sand. Click-click.

“Jen! Take a picture of the blood between my legs and show it to me!” Thank God for digital cameras! and Thank God I’m not bleeding out!

The cramping persists and finally I feel my placenta emerging. I look to Sonia. She nods in understanding and acceptance. What she pulls from me is so small. “Is that my placenta?”

“It’s in pieces.” Another one comes out.

“Did it disintegrate?!!”

“I don’t know?” Then a massive circle of flesh exits my womb. My placenta. Sonia rises, blood stained hands, to wash up.

“Thank you sweet Sonia, my midwife…with woman.” I cry.

Instantly I feel better. I’m energized, joyful. All is well. Much time passes as we soak in these precious moments. We all marvel at her. Carolina. My daughter. I thank her over and over for choosing us.

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It’s time to burn the cord. Robin Lim whispers to me. It’s the safest, cleanest  way to sever the cord when sterilized equipment is not available.

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We all take part in the ritual. It takes nearly ten minutes for the flames of two candles to burn through the umbilical cord. Just enough time to honour the time she spent with her womb side mother, and just enough time for me to embrace the honour of being her earth side mother. And so it is…

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 Carolina Tanya Millar * October 7th 2013 * 9:58 AM * 7lbs.