It hurts so much, so much more I thought anything could hurt. I am alone in my cabin, holding on to a bookshelf, telling myself not to scream, but just to experience it, to let myself fall into the waves of the pain. And then, as I stand there shaking, I see visions of women who all over the world are also giving birth at this moment. As I look at them, I realize what I am going through here is not a novelty. It is life, it’s a life moment as pure as I will ever be lucky enough to experience and suddenly I feel a sense of belonging like never before, my fears leave me and after this, finally, the pushing starts.
My name is Astrid and this is my birth story.
I myself was born in Vienna, Austria, and had left my urban life a few years before to live in the wilderness of the Klondike. Not to find gold, but the another treasure; a peaceful mind.
I can’t really remember when I first started to think about a homebirth, there certainly wasn’t one in my family or circle of friends. But whenever I thought about giving birth, it was nature and calmness, wise women, silence and peace I was craving. Fulfilling my newborn’s stone-age instincts. Darkness, Mommy, Nursing, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy. What I would have was a homebirth in my remote, off-grid cabin, 40 km away from the next town, in an area populated more by bears, moose and wolf packs, rather than humans.
And yes, the thought of this scared me less then going to a hospital.
I knew I could trust my midwife completely, that there would be no stinging eye ointment given to my baby, there would be no pushing on my belly to make the baby come faster, no vacuum suction, no epidural that numbs from the waist down; there would be nothing done I hadn’t given my consent to.
It had been 3 days so far, 72 hours of contractions, of sipping tea, of receiving massages and acupuncture, of going for walks through the forest, of sharing our thoughts, and of waiting. Waiting for the pushing to start.
Waiting for Baby to come.
After the pushing starts, I make it to the birth stool and sit down, holding on to it like to an anchor in a stormy sea. I had asked my birth team, consisting of my midwife Christina, my doula Ariel, and my husband Greg, to give me some time alone, knowing that this might be the one thing to help me lose my fear of becoming a mother, which we all felt was the reason my contractions had slowed down. While I am wondering how I can give them a sign to come back in, Christina is suddenly kneeling before me, wearing a headlamp, as it is in the middle of the night and shadowy, even though in late June the sun never goes down completely.
My baby will be born under the Midnight Sun.
Soon after, Greg and Ariel come back inside. Everyone is exhausted. The cabin is so small that whoever of the three needs to take a nap has to do so in Christina’s van. It’s a cold night, but we can’t have a fire in the wood stove. One spark from the chimney can be enough to start a forest fire, so everyone wraps up in a wool blanket instead.
After 2 hours of pushing, my exhaustion gets so overwhelming, that they all start singing to help me through it. Every time I have a contraction I hear them cheering in the background, “Good job!” and “You are so strong!”
Finally my water breaks, but what comes out is brownish green, not clear. Christina is concerned and tells me that this means there is meconium in it, which can be a sign that the baby is in distress. This is the only time she takes out her little battery-operated ultrasound, which lets us listen to the heartbeat. Baby’s heartbeat is 145 and stays this way—we all relax. Baby is doing fine. Still, I know in my heart it should come out as fast as possible and I push and push and push, even when Christina tells me to hold back, but it’s worth it, because there it is, BABY! MY BABY!
Baby is full of meconium and blood and his lips are blue. I feel the calmest I ever felt when I ask if he is alive.
Are you alive, Baby?
The umbilical cord is wrapped around his neck, I try to get it off, but it’s too tight. I can’t do it. Then I see Christina’s hand pulling it away and together we slip it over baby’s head. I hold my baby close and my husband rubs his back while Christina sucks out the meconium from his lungs. Then she takes a little tube connected to the oxygen tank and holds it under his nose.
Breathe, Baby, breathe. And then, finally, baby moves his head, just a little, following the stream of oxygen and it gives out a little cry and I look into his face and smile. The placenta slips out and Christina examines it. I am grateful my placenta is not treated as something that belongs in the garbage, but as something that tells it’s own story about the pregnancy. I hear Christina’s voice from what seems like very far away, “Astrid, you really have to stop bleeding now.” And I answer, “Ok!” and I stop bleeding.
Sometimes it’s as easy as that.
And then we look at baby and we see that it is a he. My son, Elias. Greg is holding Eli, while I lie down on the bed. Christina is examining me, she lets me decide if I want to have stitches for a second degree tear: I don’t. Eli is put back into my arms, we weigh and measure him, he starts to nurse and I fall into the deepest, most blissful sleep ever.
I sleep while Christina and Ariel cleaning up the cabin, I sleep through them taking my empty blue water jugs and dirty laundry. They tell Greg there is nothing left to do and that he can go to bed now. They leave. The next day at 9 in the morning, I am woken by Eli, who is cuddled in my arms and cries a little to tell me he wants to nurse. It is so peaceful and comforting to wake up in my own bed, my own house.
The atmosphere is holy, one can feel that something magical has happened in here.
At noon Christina comes by, bringing fresh drinking water and my clean laundry; she has baked a cake for us, homemade bread and salad from her garden. She knows. My placenta is still dehydrating in her kitchen, but she explains it’s important for my hormones that I eat some right away instead of waiting for encapsulation. So I eat a little piece fried with rice. It tastes mild and is, surprisingly, tender. For the first three weeks I have no reason to leave the cabin. Christina and Ariel will come by for the next six weeks. They nurture me, they make sure I’m healing well, keep me company. They give their care as long as it is needed.
About the Author
Author: Astrid Mauch