Gilbert John: A Birth Story
Our newest addition turned 2 months old this week. Let’s take a walk down recent-memory lane, shall we?
My birth plan: To have a home birth. At night. And Ursula would sleep through the whole thing.
The reality: Yep.
On the evening of October 4th, eight days after my due date, I went into labour. As the contractions strengthened, I joked to Matthew that we should name our son Roger in honour of the day: Ten-four.
I gave birth after midnight on the 5th, making the joke-name irrelevant. You’re welcome, kiddo.
We were at home, putting away groceries, when it became clear he was on his way. So we sped up Ursula’s dinner and bedtime routine, hoping to have her in bed before it was noticeable that Mommy was in pain. She obliged with no protest.
Matthew put a plastic drop cloth over our bedsheets, then topped that cloth with old sheets. We had a stack of old towels and blankets by the bed. A couple bowls. A flashlight. A hot water bottle. Blue pads. Wipes. Advil. We were ready.
The midwives arrived shortly after, joking that they were missing Survivor for me.
Apparently people still watch Survivor. I know nothing.
Because my labour with Ursula was very short for a firstborn, we anticipated that this one would be even faster. It wasn’t — but was still a reasonably quick five hours. (“Always be prepared” is my life motto even though I have no Scout experience whatsoever. I’m more of an indoor cat than outdoorswoman.) So the midwives came immediately, rather than wait for labour to intensify.
Matthew called Bethany, my second cousin’s wife — let’s just call her my cousin, ‘cause family is family — to let her know what was going on, in case Ursula woke up and/or we had to go to the hospital. She lives just a few minutes away and was graciously willing to provide childcare if we needed it.
The home birth was my insistence, not a recommendation from my midwives. On my due date, I received a call from my primary midwife, informing me that because baby boy was measuring large, her professional recommendation was that I give birth at the hospital.
I knew he was going to be large, I told her. Ursula was almost 9 pounds. I wasn’t concerned. My family makes big, healthy babies.
She warned me of shoulder dystocia — a rare-but-potentially-serious complication in which the baby’s shoulder gets stuck during labour — and how the risk increases with larger babies. And then she told me something NO HEALTHCARE PROVIDER SHOULD EVER SAY:
I cried. Not because I was scared of the stuck shoulder, but because she was putting me in a position where I would have to go against medical advice or choose an option based on fear. I was 40 weeks pregnant, and I felt like my healthy pregnancy was suddenly being threatened with birth complications.
In the end, I held my ground.
Even after she asked, “Could you live with yourself if something goes wrong?”
WHAT. THE. HECK.
I do not take risk lightly. I loved (and still love) my baby dearly. I would do anything for him. And I honestly believed that a home birth was the right decision for our family. Complications happen in hospitals, too. And doctors are not necessarily more equipped to deal with shoulder dystocia than midwives. (Where’s Ina May when you need her?) Besides, the hospital was just minutes away if we needed it.
My medical file has a note in it that states my choice was not the recommended one. I didn’t let them induce me or break my water, either.
It turns out that I can be a pretty stubborn mama bear when I need to be.
So I had a home birth.*
The pain seemed more intense this time. I told Matthew I was scared, something I didn’t say during labour the first time.
He gripped my hand and said, “It feels intense because IT IS intense” — something my midwife told me when I was labouring with Ursula two years earlier. He knew I needed those words. I needed that first midwife. Someone who empowered me, championed my choices, and took charge when I started to feel weak.
(Jill, if you’re out there, THANK YOU. You were my backup midwife in spirit.)
After five hours of labouring in the shower and on our bed, it was time to meet our little guy. He came out in three pushes — all 9 pounds, 9 ounces (and 22.5”) of him. His shoulder was a nonissue. He was perfect.
I nursed him while the midwives cleaned him off with our old towels. (Fun fact: a home birth is a great way to purge your old towels and sheets.) Then I hobbled off to have a shower while they examined him and filled out paperwork — and put the placenta in our freezer.
(No, I wasn’t going to eat it. But I wasn’t going to toss it in the trash a full six days before garbage day. I didn’t want to know what happens when raccoons get their grubby rodent-hands on one.)
When I was done showering, our bed was made and ready for me. I climbed in, ate some toast and a banana, and cuddled with my newborn.
(Apparently I eat bananas after having babies. It’s my thing. It’s also my thing to go into labour after dinner and have the baby before breakfast. It’s very important to not skip meals.)
Gilbert was large, but not large enough to need glucose monitoring at the hospital. We could stay home. And sleep. And so we did.
Ursula slept through the entire thing. According to plan. When she woke up that morning, she immediately wanted to "hold it" and smother her brother with kisses.
I spent the next day or two dozing in our room with Gil while family rotated in and out. My recovery was easier this time. My confidence level as a new parent higher. My exhaustion greater.
We’re still adjusting to life as a family of four. But in some ways, it feels like he’s always been here.
We love you. Thanks for making our new home an even more special one. This is where you started.
Read Ursula’s birth story here.
*Please don't read this as ungrateful or bitter. Or an endorsement to ignore medical advice. I was SO INCREDIBLY THANKFUL to find a midwife in Hamilton, considering I was already seven months pregnant when we got here and midwives typically have waiting lists. After a couple teary conversations, my midwives and I were a team again. And all follow-up appointments were encouraging and supportive.