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My Littlest Teacher:
What my son taught me about myself
through his home birth
By Jeanette Carey-Polachok

home birth babyMany years ago, in my infinite wisdom, I decided to embrace a new way of thinking about my fears: face them head on, in an attempt to conquer them. Donating blood (fear of needles) took two attempts before I was successful. I met my fear of heights halfway by climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia not once, but twice. I further tempted fate by going sky-diving (once). I convinced myself on several occasions that the cause I was representing was more important than the fear I had of speaking in front of large groups of people. I even ended up doing an a cappella version of Billy Joel’s The Downeaster Alexa in a crowded small-town upstate New York bar once.

There must be a part of me that likes to live dangerously. In amongst the swirl of emotions after each of these stunts was the goal I’d been seeking: a sense of personal accomplishment that proved to me what I could do if I worked hard at and believed in a goal that I set for myself.

Fast-forward a few years. My new goal? Giving birth to my second child at home. According to many, including some I’d hoped would be more supportive, I was apparently two steps away from being certifiably crazy for even considering the possibility. I lost count of the people who looked at me strangely whenever the topic came up, or those who voiced their doubts regarding my ability to have even a drug-free birth. Part of me was nervous, absolutely, but another part of me wasn’t. That stubborn part of me took others’ lack of faith in my ability to birth my child without assistance as an invitation to prove them wrong.

I first said hello to my baby the moment I saw that blue plus-sign on the stick. “Hello, hello, I’m so glad you’re here, so very glad you’re here.” I had been praying and hoping that I’d be chosen to love, nurture, and help a new life to grow in my womb. Somehow I felt he’d chosen me, and I was honored. I told him how much I looked forward to feeling him grow within me; that there would be many, many people who would be looking forward to meeting him. It’s amazing how much I fit into those few minutes, the first of countless important conversations we had while he was on the inside.

I remember that first call to the midwives. Barely a minute or so after I had shared the news with my husband, I dialed the number on the business card I had been carrying around in my wallet for such a long time. Even if I wasn’t convinced at the time that I had the strength and conviction I perceived that someone intending to birth their child at home required, I knew enough to know that making this call was the only way I could give myself the opportunity to choose. It was an opportunity that, when compared with what was available to my female relatives and friends back in Australia, seemed a luxury that I shouldn’t throw away.

At the time, there was only one local practice with only two midwives, and it had been virtually tattooed on my brain that you had to call them “pretty much before the stick dries” because the demand for their services was so high. Never one for being relaxed while waiting for anything, I figured I’d further my cause by writing to them to let them know how much I believed in the service they offered and why they should take me on. “I want to truly experience this time of my life, with the level of care and support that a midwife can provide.…”

I even included a copy of a magazine article I had written about my experience with breastfeeding my daughter, in the hope that it would somehow give me more credibility. Knowing that this would be my last pregnancy, I truly wanted to experience this journey in the fullest sense possible. And maybe it did make them take notice of me, because they decided to take me on.
"Part of me was nervous about having a home birth, but another part of me wasn’t. That stubborn part of me took others’ lack of faith in my ability to birth my child without assistance as an invitation to prove them wrong."

I looked forward to hearing my son’s little galloping heartbeat at every appointment. My husband went along with us to all but one, and for the last few we took big-sister-to-be. She climbed up and sat on the corner of the “bed” while our midwife measured what needed to be measured, and gladly assisted each time my blood pressure was checked by squeezing the little hand pump. The way her face lit up when she first heard her brother’s heartbeat on the doppler was priceless.

Wise beyond her two-and-a-bit years, she had made it her mission to make a list of all the things she was going to teach him once he was born. Besides teaching him his ABCs, how to sing, how to walk, and how to use a spoon, she was adamant that she teach him to dance. We would often sing to him and read him stories. I was so proud of how she grasped the concept of including him in our life so early on. It made sense though, because it seemed that she was the one who first knew that he was on his way to us.

The first contraction woke me up in the early hours one day towards the end of my forty-first week. I knelt down in front of our couch and buried my head in the cushion whenever a contraction washed over me.

Figuring that we had plenty of time left, I thought I’d let my husband sleep a while longer. Plus, I wanted to savor these last moments I had alone with my son before I had to share him with the rest of the world. There was enough moonlight peeking through the curtains for me to glimpse the face of my watch. I was barely out of bed for half an hour and the contractions were rather intense already. Tick, tick...the second-hand told me that the longest pause so far was fifty-seconds.

"I quietly whispered to my son that I was afraid, that I felt incapable. That I wasn’t cut out for this quest after all."

I feared that if this intensity were to keep up for another twenty-two hours (the length of time I was in labor for my daughter), I would go insane. I quietly whispered to my son that I was afraid, that I felt incapable. That I wasn’t cut out for this quest after all. I heard the voices of all the people who joked about taking bets on me not being able to endure a drug-free labor.

All of a sudden, those voices were swept aside by the memory of a conversation I had with my mother- in-law’s aunt several months previously, about her own mother’s fifteen home births in small-town northern Ontario during the 1920s and 30s. She talked about how the older kids would know that a baby was on the way when they saw “the woman who dressed all in white walking up the lane towards their house,” or on the odd occasion when they would “wake up in the morning and find mama in bed with a baby.”

That was the first of several times during this labor journey that I called on the strength of my husband’s great grandmother to help me believe in myself and summon my own strength. “We’re a team, little buddy,” I told my son. “We will do this together, you and me.”

I woke my husband up, and continued to labor beside our bed for a little while before it began to dawn on me that maybe there was a reason why it felt like the contractions were on top of one another at times. Maybe this little guy was in more of a hurry to grace us with his presence than his sister had been.

I called my in-laws to come and pick up our daughter, and attempted to call my parents on Skype to give them an update but our conversation was cut short by a contraction so powerful that it took away my ability to speak. “I knew it was close when I heard the pitch of your voice change like that,” my mother (a retired nurse-midwife) later told me. Strangely enough, I still didn’t get how close I was to meeting my son.

Finding myself back in the bathroom again, I found the most comfortable position to be in was kneeling by the tub. It wasn’t until I had watched the film The Business of Being Born that I was even aware that lying on your back was only one position in which to birth a baby. I credit that movie, and the hours I spent kneeling on all fours in an attempt to turn my then-posterior baby around, for helping me find this. There was a lot of noise coming out of my mouth, a crazy alternation between a beast-like roar and a pitiful child-like call for my parents. I remember on one hand being afraid of what the neighbors would think because I was sure they could hear me, and then having a laugh because I really didn’t care after all. I was amazed that my husband had to actually wake our daughter up when his parents arrived to get her.

The pressure in “the zone” was unbelievable, and I reached down after one contraction had passed to feel what was going on. My son’s head was almost out. Why hadn’t I called my doula much earlier than I did? Why was I unlucky enough to be second-in-line, and have to wait for my midwife to travel across town to reach me? I had been fighting the urge to push for over forty minutes (I still had my watch on; checking the time helped keep me focused) and my body finally said, “Enough of this!” and went on auto-pilot.

It was like a surreal, almost out-of-body experience that had me completely spellbound. I had no choice but to surrender control, and I felt my son move slowly on his way out to greet me. Suddenly my doula was at my side, talking me through the contraction that freed my son’s head. I felt her check to make sure the cord was not wrapped around his neck, and she encouraged me to push with all my strength through the next one. Out he came into her waiting hands – her fiftieth baby and her first catch. While my husband helped her wrap our son up in towels, I heard myself say, “Oh my God, I’ve just had a baby!”

"Out he came into the doula’s waiting hands – her fiftieth baby and her first catch. While my husband helped her wrap our son up in towels, I heard myself say, 'Oh my God, I’ve just had a baby!' "

The shock didn’t set in fully until my doula and midwife were helping me have a shower afterwards. Everything had happened so quickly, and it didn’t seem like I had been in a state of full awareness of what had been happening until this moment. My body started shaking and I began sobbing uncontrollably. I had just given birth to my son, in our home. No medical interventions whatsoever. And by a strange set of circumstances, I had been able to rely on my own strength for almost my entire labor and delivery. I didn’t know I had it in me, and it was very hard for me to comprehend the impact of how I’d not only achieved my goal of having a home birth but somehow gone far beyond what I’d set out to achieve.

My healthy eight-pound, five-ounce son took to nursing like a pro. My husband set up my computer beside our bed so that I could call my parents back – this time on video chat so that they, despite being halfway across the world, were the first family members to see our son. My brother happened to be up early before heading off to work, and got to meet his nephew.

The highlight, though, came a few hours later when my in-laws brought our daughter home to meet her brother. She couldn’t get her boots and jacket off fast enough before she bounded up the hallway to our room. Stopping inside the doorway, staring at me, inching forward upon my invitation to come and meet her brother...the vision of her thoroughly awestruck little face left an indelible impression on my heart. She was as absolutely overflowing with love for him as I knew she would be.

When we were given a moment to ourselves, I leaned over to grab my camera and take the first (of many) photos of my son, swaddled up in the blanket I had crocheted for him during the previous summer (the same blanket that he now will not sleep without). I bathed in the glow of his sleeping peacefulness for that moment, and thanked him once again for choosing me to be his mother, hoping and praying in my mind that I truly was up to the task. I warned him that I wasn’t perfect, and in time he would discover the cracks in my super mama facade. But I promised him that I would do the best job I could possibly do. Above all, I thanked him for giving me the most profound memory of my own personal strength that I could draw on in the future whenever I needed to.

I have to admit that I did get a fair bit of satisfaction out of proving so many naysayers wrong! The greatest feedback I received, though, didn’t come my way until just over a year later when a good friend of mine gave birth to her son in the glow of the Christmas tree lights in their living room. Her words of praise for my paving the way for her own journey of self- discovery and healing through home birth meant more to me than I’m sure she realized at the time.

Jeanette Carey-Polachok is the Australian-born mother of two little Canadians who love to make up stories and sing Beatles tunes. When she’s not on mama duty, Jeanette loves to write and learn about organic gardening. And she always has several yarn projects on the go, some of which can be found at www.etsy.com/shop/bymamaj.

Learn More

The Business of Being Born by Ricki Lake

Pregnancy & Childbirth Secrets by Gail J. Dahl (Innovative Publishing, 2007)

Gentle Birth Choices by Barbara Harper (Healing Arts Press, 1994)

“The Gentle Art of Birthing at Home” by Debra Elramey in Natural Life Magazine, January/February 2011

“The Homebirth Choice” by Jill Cohen in Midwifery Today

 

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