I wasn’t originally planning on sharing Ivy’s birth story as labour is such an intimately personal experience. However, as the months begin to pass I’ve noticed that I’m starting to forget little details, which saddens me to no end. With that in mind, I recently sat down and took pen to paper to commemorate the details surrounding one of the most beautiful, powerful, positive, and otherworldly experiences of my life while they’re still fresh enough in my mind.
After much contemplation, I’ve ultimately decided that if our story helps even one person have a positive birth story I’m willing to risk my vulnerability. While every story is absolutely valid, and it goes without saying that one is not more important than the next, I believe that positive birth stories should be shared more prevalently. Because, despite what TV, movies, and my neighbour “who knew a girl who…” have taught us, birth stories that aren’t terrifying, drama-filled, or ripe with pain and anxiety really do exist, and in vast numbers.
To start, I want to say that however one chooses to bring their baby into the world is entirely their prerogative and I give my full and utter support. There is ZERO judgement here. Women are absolute super hero’s no matter how their story unfolds.
That being said, labour and birth are topics that I’ve become absolutely fascinated by. During my pregnancy I was adamant about not listening to negative birth stories, and did a ton of research on positive, painless, and even orgasmic labour (yes! This is a thing!) I feel very strongly that my positive (and virtually painless) birth was a direct result of my mindset and deep work going into it.
Our labour and birth experience was something that Justin and I both consciously and unconsciously took into our own hands. We worked hard towards it, logging countless hours of research, meditation, and in person classes during my pregnancy, and it was ultimately such a wonderful one from beginning to end. One that I feel incredibly proud of.
The history of labour is so fascinating, as is the science behind what our bodies actually *do* when we labour, and having that pragmatic understanding was key in knowing how to best support myself mentally and physically during the process. I read a ton (however this book and this one were my favourites), and we took an in-person HypnoBirthing course that I cannot recommend highly enough. It helped put everything we had learned into physical practice, and gave us incredibly useful tools to help with my comfort while labouring.
One thing that was very important to me the whole way through was to completely and wholeheartedly trust my body and know that its capable of magical things (I mean, it made a human! With toes! And eyeballs! All on its own!) That meant that I wanted to avoid medical intervention such as membrane sweeps, cervical checks, and (especially) an induction at all costs. I went into it with an open mind, knowing that I’d do whatever needed to be done to bring our baby earthside safely, but really coming from a place of empowerment, knowing (and fully trusting) in my soul that my body would do what it’s supposed to do when it’s ready to. We made this very clear to our midwives, and when our girl hadn’t arrived on her estimated due date they agreed to let us go an additional two weeks before any intervention, so long as we agreed to an ultrasound on day 7 to ensure she was still happy and healthy in there.
In the early hours of April 7th, exactly a week after Ivy’s March 31st “due date”, I kept waking up to some pretty intense cramping. They felt very much like strong period cramps. Not pain, per se, but more like an off and on ache. I started timing them, but they were pretty inconsistent. It was the morning of said ultrasound, and when arrived at our midwives appointment I was told to just ignore them as they were likely just Braxton Hicks surges* and they’d come and go – potentially for another week. Admittedly, this made me nervous. The surges I had experienced off and on all morning were totally manageable, but they definitely had an intensity to them and the thought of them just being practice surges made me apprehensive for the real thing.
*in HypnoBirthing language is super important. We’re taught that language is powerful, and our bodies have a physiological response to specific words. We don’t use the term contraction, as it connotes something getting smaller and tighter – which is the opposite of what you want when you’re in labour. Instead, we call them surges or waves, which has a much more positive effect on our minds and, thus, our bodies.
After our ultrasound, where we were given the green light to wait another week for things to happen on their own, I came home and took a nap. The “practice” surges kept coming and going, enough that it began to be difficult to nap through them and by 5 pm Justin and I decided to start timing them again.
In light of full disclosure, I kept waiting for them to get more uncomfortable, thinking it was going to get worse, but that never really happened. They really just got longer and closer together, thus feeling more intensified. By 7 or 8 that evening they were consistent and regular so Justin decided to call our midwife.
At this point I moved to the bathroom and laboured on the toilet (which was where I felt the most comfortable all evening). It was really important to me to stay calm and peaceful during the experience, surrendering myself fully and trusting my body do what it was designed to do. So we dimmed the lights, Justin sweetly lit a candle to set the vibe, and I closed my eyes and let my body get to work.
With Justin’s guidance and support, we utilized a lot of the HypnoBirthing techniques we had learned. Everything from breath-work, to acupressure, to hypnotism, to massage and gentle touch… As things began to ramp up and the surges got longer and closer together, the acupressure points in particular gave me a ton of relief from the intensity, as did the breathing techniques, which Justin talked me through during each wave. As an aside, I truly couldn’t have done it this way without him. He was such a rockstar, he took his role incredibly seriously, and he was absolutely invaluable to my positive birth experience. He helped keep me grounded, focused, and feel safe. He handled all of the communication, the logistics, the decisions, and the pragmatic details. And I knew I was in the very best of hands, which allowed me the freedom to go inwards and focus wholeheartedly on the task at hand.
By 9pm or so I was legitimately in another world, just breathing and meditating and surrendering my body to the experience. I would quietly throw my hands at Justin during each surge, and he’d put pressure in that magical spot between your thumb and first finger which gave instant relief. This portion is unfortunately a bit of a blur by now, but I do remember moving to the shower, and labouring under the stream of hot water, which felt so wonderful. I stayed there until the water ran cold before Justin helped me out and back to the toilet.
Our midwife came over around 11 pm to check on me. While I was definitely in a zone, almost an out of body experience if I’m being honest, I still wouldn’t describe any of it as painful. It just felt intense and achey. More comparable to a headache than a pin prick, sort of thing. My surges were almost on top of each other and each one felt like a crazy rush of energy coursing through my veins. I kept reminding myself that each wave was bringing our baby closer to us. I remember being in awe of my body and what it was doing entirely on it’s own. And I remember reminding myself that “I can do anything for one minute” when things got particularly intense.
Similar to not wanting any unnecessary intervention, I also didn’t want to be told just far along I was in terms of dilation and effacement. The reality is you could be 3cm dilated and give birth in two hours, or 9cm for twenty four. (In fact, I later found out that at our ultrasound at 1:00 that afternoon my cervix was still completely closed and they never would have guessed I was already in the early stages of labour). We figured it wasn’t a unit of measurement that really gave us any peace of mind or encouragement either way, so we decided we’d rather not know. That said, by 11 pm our midwife could tell I was in active labour and asked me to move back into our bedroom to check on me for her own knowledge so we could start making some decisions.
I remember laying in my back while she checked my progress, which was the only time I felt REALLY uncomfortable, and her laughing saying “girl, you’re going to want to know this. You’re 9cm dilated and fully effaced. We need to move.”
While our original plan was to go to the Toronto Birth Centre, at this point I was excited knowing I was practically ready, still comfortable enough, and it was fully manageable – I legitimately would have just stayed home. But because things were progressing so quickly, despite the fact that I felt pretty darn good, my blood pressure was going up and Ivy’s heart rate was going down during each surge. Our midwife was fairly confident it was simply due to the pace of it all, but suggested we head to the hospital just to be on the safe side.
It was super important to me to stay in my happy, peaceful, otherworldly bubble, so I let Justin take full control. I kept my eyes closed the ENTIRE time while he dressed me, put his winter hat over my sopping wet hair, and put me in the car. They laid down a puppy pee pad on the seat of our car just in case (ha), and I was given instructions to stop and pant if I felt the urge to push, as they were genuinely concerned I was going to give birth en route!
It was midnight at this point, and our midwife had gone ahead of us to sign us in and prep our room. Bless her soul, by the time we had arrived, fully abandoning our car in the ambulance’s parking lot no less, she had dimmed all of the lights and turned down all the machines to set the mood so we could cross the finish line in peace, as I had so desperately wanted.
At this point it must have been close to 1:30 am. I was fully ready to go, but my water hadn’t released yet. They had asked if I wanted them to break it for me but, again, not wanting any intervention (my body knew what it was doing, that was so abundantly clear to me), I wanted it to break on its own volition. It was suggested that I move back to the toilet as gravity might help things move along, which is exactly what happened. My waters burst the second I sat down and I’m pretty sure I cheered as I was so damn excited to meet our girl and so ready for the next step.
In all honesty, the idea of pushing was the part that really terrified me during my pregnancy. I did a lot of work on releasing that fear, however the nerves definitely still lingered. But I’m pleased to announce that those fears dissipated while I laboured and the pushing part of the equation legitimate felt *good*. It was a relief from the intensity of the surges, I knew we were so close to meeting our baby, and my endorphins were fully activated as my excitement levels rose. So much so that when she was crowning I asked “does she have hair??” And “what colour is it??” in between waves – ha! I don’t associate this portion of our experience with any pain or discomfort whatsoever. I was chatty, wholly present, and PUMPED. And I remember this particular part so vividly, which I’m really grateful for.
Our midwives were beyond amazing as they helped support me “pushing” in whatever position felt comfortable. However my blood pressure was continuing to climb and Ivy’s heart rate kept dropping during each wave. Unsure exactly what was happening, but worried that the umbilical cord might have been wrapped around her neck, they called the OB into the room just to be on the safe side.
In HypnoBirthing, you learn about something called the natural expulsion reflex, wherein your body moves your baby out of your body without you having to push (it’s fascinating!!!) I desperately wanted to attempt this, however the OB insisted that we needed to get her our quickly due to her heart rate decelerations, so I agreed to coached pushing. In retrospect I could have stuck to my guns on this as it turned out everything was totally fine. I feel in my soul I could have avoided the minor tear I ended up with if my pushing wasn’t being coached and thus rushed, however our girl came out healthy and thriving. So while this was the only part that didn’t go according to my super loose no-plan plans, I have zero regrets.
Ivy James emerged in the early morning hours on April 8th at 2:00 am on the dot, after 6.5 hours of labour and 30 minutes of pushing, at a whooping 8 lbs 1 Oz and 20″ long. She was born under the full pink libra super moon, and I instantly knew she was here to do some pretty big things. They immediately placed her on my chest, she nursed right away, and Justin cut our umbilical cord, which was really the only part that was just like the movies. Tears streamed down our faces as we stared in awe at our beautiful girl and soaked in the whirlwind of our magical evening in it’s entirety.
It was the most incredible day and I’m so grateful for the whole thing. My support system was just beyond, and I think back on it all with pure awe, pride, empowerment, joy, and admiration for my body. I know that birth trauma is incredibly real, but it wasn’t my experience in the least. I think about that evening just about daily, and it never fails to fill my heart and soul. My one wish for this world is for every person who wants to experience labour and birth to have a positive one. And if I can help you do just that in any capacity, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
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