Birth Story: Rhiannon Amerentia

June 21, 2011 {Chantal & Andrew: 4th homebirth, on the summer solstice}

Our fourth baby was due around June 13, 2011, but I fully expected this baby to be a week or so late like the sister and brothers before her. Maybe this would be a Father’s Day baby on June 19th? Or a summer solstice baby on June 21st so we would have a baby for each season? That would be on a Tuesday, just like Madigan and Liam (and probably Callum too, if it hadn’t been Halloween). We couldn’t wait to find out!

We spent Father’s Day weekend going to Myakka River State Park and doing some walking there, as well as Robinson Preserve where we walked/waddled in the sweltering midday heat. Still no baby! Father’s Day had come and gone… maybe baby would wait until the summer solstice?

Sure enough, at 1:24am on the morning of June 21st, I awoke to a feeling that I had to get to the bathroom fast because my water was about to break. It broke as soon as I got up out of bed and I sloshed to the bathroom. I lost a gush of water and was a little concerned to see there was quite a bit of meconium in the water. The water kept coming – it was not a slow leak, but a steady one. I stood on a towel and shuffled around the house. I drank some juice to see if the baby would get moving as I hadn’t felt movement yet and with the meconium I wanted reassurance baby was fine, I had a shower, I swept the floor of dog hair, and even though it was around 2:30am, I texted my midwife to give her a heads up on the off chance she might be awake. I considered trying to get some sleep in Callum’s room since he had managed to get into our bed and I couldn’t lift him out of my spot. Finally, about an hour later, I just decided to wake Andrew up and asked him to move Callum back to his room. I told him my water had broken and he started walking around doing stuff. For some inexplicable reason, I had planned to just go back to bed and get more sleep, so I asked him what he was doing and told him to get in bed. Silly me!

I’d had spurts of regular contractions for weeks, but they’d only last an hour or two and weren’t serious. Now I was starting to get contractions that definitely felt like labor contractions, but they were very manageable and I didn’t want to call Christina too early. How embarrassing would it be, I thought, for me – a childbirth educator and doula – to call her in the middle of the night and have her come over and only be 3-4 cm dilated! I think at this point, I was in some degree of labor denial. Having had a very long active labor (24+ hours) with my first, I knew all too well that I could be doing this for quite a while. While part of me was hopeful that this would indeed go faster, as my subsequent labors had, I couldn’t quite let myself believe it. This was the end of my last pregnancy and this was it!

Callum wandered sleepily back into our room and so we told him I was in labor and that he was the first to know, but he needed to go sleep in his room now. He wanted to sleep in Madigan’s room instead so he snuggled on her bottom bunk with her. Liam came in to our room a short while later and we told him I was in labor and he needed to go back to bed. Instead of going back to sleep, he went and woke Madigan up to tell her the news. Soon, by 5:30, all the kids were up talking and excited and dressed and with their little backpacks on, ready to go to their grandparents’ house. We had given them all the option of staying home for the birth or going over there. The boys wanted to go to Oma and Opa’s but Madigan (age 9) chose to stay for the birth. They got themselves breakfast and came in to hug the belly bump. Andrew called Christina at around 5:30. By now, she had responded to my text from earlier so she knew she’d be getting the call. I still wasn’t quite sure – if you asked me during a contraction, I’d say Yes, yes, call her! She needs to come over NOW! But between contractions, I thought we could probably wait a little longer. It’s a good thing Andrew called when he did! A little later he called my parents and they arrived to collect the boys just moments after Christina arrived at around 6:30am.

{Note: I asked my kids about attending the birth and gave them the choice. My 9yo girl chose to be there, the 7yo and 4yo boys chose to go to their grandparents’ house. I gave them the choice, but I regret that now. I’m glad my daughter was there and she is too but I think the boys should have been there too. They saw a bit of my labor but I think they so rarely see their grandparents (who actually just live down the street) that it seemed exciting for them to go there, whereas I should have promised them they could see their grandparents afterwards and had them there for the actual birth. I think it would have been good for them – I love it when I hear dads in my classes say they were present for their siblings’ births and they feel it’s a normal process and I’m sad I feel that by wanting to give them a choice and respect their decision, I actually robbed them of an experience I as the parent should have decided was an important one for them to be in the house for (maybe not right there if they didn’t want to be, but at least in the house). It’s the one aspect of my last birth that I regret.}

Christina came in and starting setting up her things and making calls. It was so good to have her there and it was good to hear her say that we hadn’t called too early. I went to the bathroom and sat backwards on the toilet so Andrew could put counter pressure on my lower back. (Baby had turned posterior weeks before when we’d all been ill and I’d coughed horribly for a couple of weeks. Acupuncture, chiropractic and pelvic rocks hadn’t turned the baby yet, but fortunately the baby did turn during labor.) It was here that I first felt an urge to push. I couldn’t believe it. Part of me had hoped things would progress quickly, but another part – probably the part that had once endured a long labor – was prepared to be in it for the long haul and couldn’t let myself believe it really might be over soon.

I left the toilet and was happy to see that Kristin had arrived. My birth team was complete and ready. This was also another good sign that Christina felt birth would be happening soon. I wanted to call out a ‘hello’ to Kristin but I just couldn’t summon the energy. It was almost an out-of-body disconnect between what the body and mind wanted to do and were doing. I managed the few steps to the bathroom sink where I stood during a contraction in which I really needed to push. I said something about not wanting to have my baby right there. After that contraction, I made my way toward the bed. I did not want to lie down, but I could not think of what position to go in. Nothing really appealed to me. A contraction began while I was standing there wondering where to go next and I remember leaning with my hand on Christina’s back while she bent over and feeling bad that that could not possibly be comfortable for her but I couldn’t really move. After that contraction, I turned and faced the bed so I leaned on that. I felt the unmistakable feeling of a baby’s head sliding down into my vagina. Wow! This was going way faster than I’d dared to hope! I called out Madigan’s name, afraid she might miss the birth, not knowing where she was, but I was assured she was standing in the doorway and was right there.

I guess my poor baby’s head only came out to the eyebrows or so and had to wait for the next contraction for the rest to be born. Christina asked me to put one knee up on the bed to help get her shoulders out with the next contraction. Before I knew it, I felt the release of pressure as our baby was born from my body safely into my midwife’s hands. She was born at 7:03 am, just about half an hour after our midwife arrived and less than 6 hours from when I woke. I looked down to see my baby – was it a boy or a girl? – and was momentarily confused by Christina’s beige-colored gloved finger between the baby’s legs. She handed the baby through my legs onto the bed, where I got my first good look at my beautiful baby girl. Wow, she had a lot of dark hair! And those cheeks! They were huge! I bent over and touched her face. I started to get down on my knees to get closer to her, but then remembered the cord was still attached. Madigan was right there, in front of us on the bed by now, camera in hand and smiling. After a few moments, I sat on the bed and held our new little girl.

 

We did it! Another safe and amazing homebirth to make our family complete. I am so grateful to my husband for supporting me and being so actively involved in the birth of our children. I am so happy our eldest daughter was there to experience the amazing joy of birth. I am also incredibly grateful to Christina and Kristin for being my midwives. I am thankful for their knowledge and support and for helping me birth my child in whichever position happened to work for me at that time. I never would have guessed that would be standing up! It renewed in me a fresh appreciation for the entire midwifery model of care, the incredible care midwives provide and how empowering that is for the mother. I don’t know that I could have birthed Rhiannon any other way, this was simply the right way for her to be born. (This, I think, freaked Andrew out a little – let’s just say he too was very happy Christina was there as he would not have wanted to catch a baby that way unassisted!)

Soon came the time to weigh our little bundle of joy. Andrew did the honors with Kristin’s help and found our baby girl to be 10 pounds 11 ounces. She was 21.25 inches long.

Christina showed us the placenta and exactly where Rhiannon had been living these past 9 months. Madigan didn’t seem squeamish at all, she stayed right there and even took a picture of it. The cord seemed quite long and Christina made a placenta print for us. Kristin bagged the placenta and put it in our freezer. We’ll see how long it stays there this time before we plant it! Maybe it won’t take us 4+ years again….

When it was time to cut the cord, Andrew offered Madigan the opportunity and she took it! Kristin helped talk her through it and she did it! I think she was very proud of herself and we too were proud of her. We wanted her to know and understand that birth is a normal and healthy process and we hope this will be something she will always remember with joy, that she was there to help welcome her little sister into the world.

We hadn’t quite decided on Rhian or Rhiannon for a girl’s name but after meeting our baby girl and trying out each name a few times, we went with Rhiannon. It just seemed right.

Rhiannon’s breathing was a little fast and irregular after she was born. It was something we kept a very close eye on, and fortunately it resolved itself by around midnight or so. Christina had shown me just after birth that the fluid in her mouth was clear, which was a relief to me after seeing the meconium in the water.

Andrew called my parents and they brought the boys over to meet their new sibling. All the kids were very excited to meet her and continue to shower her with love and attention.

A NOTE ON BREASTFEEDING

Breastfeeding has always been very challenging for me to get established. This time was no exception. In fact, although this was my fourth baby, it probably took the longest, about 6 weeks, for us to overcome our hurdles and become comfortable breastfeeding. I experienced cracked and bleeding nipples, engorgement, over-abundant supply, a great deal of pain, one bout of mastitis (my first ever!) and a good amount of frustration. Among other things, I used hot compresses, cold compresses, castor oil packs, cabbage leaves, nipple butter, homeopathic remedies, herbal remedies, breast shells, different nursing positions, a manual pump, massage, rest, hydration, vitamin C, lots of nursing on cue (even when it really hurt), block nursing (using one breast per feeding or for a few hours), two acetaminophen at the worst of the mastitis (it takes a lot for me to resort to that!) and a heavy dose of pure sheer determination to make this breastfeeding relationship work. And I’m so glad we’ve done it!! I know it’s worth it, for both of us.

This experience too has renewed in me a desire to help others achieve a good breastfeeding relationship, so during this time I was happy to participate in a photo shoot for World Breastfeeding Week. I also took part in the Big Latch On event to help generate breastfeeding awareness and acceptance. I am again grateful to all those who helped me through this challenging time, especially my husband who supported me and encouraged me and my children who also helped in every way they could, but also to my midwives for their support and suggestions when I turned to them in tears and frustration and to my students who have persevered through their own breastfeeding challenges and helped each other through milk sharing and otherwise inspired me. Thank you to all the women out there who nurse in public and normalize breastfeeding and offer support to other moms. You rock!

Later note: When Rhiannon was nearly 3 months old, I heard of two local women who were seeking breastmilk donations. I pumped milk for one and I took a couple of shifts as a wet nurse for the other. This too was an amazing experience that I am grateful to have had. The determination and desire of these women, who were temporarily on medications that were incompatible with breastfeeding, to provide their babies with breastmilk instead of artificial alternatives, even if that breastmilk came from women they didn’t know, was inspirational to me and filled me with gratitude that I am able to nurse and nourish my babies and overcome our obstacles. And to see all the women who came forward to help by sharing their own supply was very powerful. It truly takes a village.

 

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