Penelope’s Birth Story – A Journey of Beautiful Healing [Postpartum Series]

[All the images in this post taken by the lovely Vannessa Brown Photography]

I have told my children’s birth stories before; to family, to friends, but I finally sit down and write them.

Today, I am 9 months postpartum for the second time, the same amount of time I carried each of my children in my womb, and in honor of that, I share their birth stories.

I begin with Penelope’s, my first born.

*

The technician at our 20 week ultrasound asked me and my husband if we wanted to know the sex of our baby. We didn’t, but I already knew. I have never been one to really think about the meaning of dreams, but when it comes to my children, they have been true. I met Penelope in my dreams years ago, and when I found out I was pregnant, I knew I was having a daughter. Picking names was easy. We had a boy name, just in case, but in my heart, our search was done once we had her name.

Penelope Eve.

Penelope,  “Weaver” in Greek, and Eve, “Life” in Hebrew;  she was, and still is, our little weaver of life.

The same way I knew I was having a daughter, I also knew I wanted a home birth. It was important to me, I trusted I could do it, and it was just something I wanted. We found the most wonderful midwife, bought all our supplies for our planned home birth, rented a birth pool, read books, did prenatal yoga and classes; we did what we were supposed to do as expecting parents. My confidence as a first time mom-to-be was high, and I felt strong and prepared. The weeks passed, and so did our “due date”, but we knew we were close, and just patiently waited.

I was 40+3 weeks pregnant, winding down from another day passed. It was 9:30 pm, and just as I was feeling this was another day gone with no baby, I felt my first little contraction. I smiled. There was a note pad next to me, and I started writing down how often I was getting these period like cramps. I did that quietly for the next two hours, and only then, looked at my husband and said “I think I’m in labor”, ha! We tried to go to bed, and the excitement that labor was imminent didn’t allow me much sleep, but I made it through the night. My husband woke up later in the morning, made me an egg and avocado sandwich for breakfast, which I remember clearly, as I ended up flushing that down the toiler later, ha. We waited a few more hours before we called our midwife, my family arrived to keep us company, went for a walk, and a little after noon, my midwife arrived. When she checked me, I was about 7/8cm dilated! I was so excited, like “YES! I’ve got this, we’re almost there!”.

We called our birth photographer, my husband set up the birth pool, my midwife was getting all her equipment ready, the second midwife was on her way, my family in the living room downstairs, patiently waiting for this baby to be born; everyone had a job.  At this point, my contractions were getting stronger, and I was bouncing on my toes as my coping technique. It was working well, but when they told me the pool was ready, I got in right away. My goodness; that was B L I S S. The warm water was so comforting and my contractions stopped for a wonderful break that I so desperately needed. Once the contractions started again though, they came on strong. One of them broke my water, as I felt a pop in between my legs, but the fluid was clear, which was a good sign; my baby was happy.

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In the months leading up to labor, I had visualized how I saw the whole thing happening. I always saw myself giving birth during the day. At that moment, I was in the birth pool, the afternoon light was beautiful; it’s what I had been visualizing for months and it was happening. I was starting to get the urge to push, the end is near, but I still wasn’t fully dilated, and I had cervical lip. I got out of the pool, my midwife guided me through some movements that could better position Penelope’s head since that cervical lip was in the way, and I followed along.

At this point, my confidence from earlier in the day was starting to shift. I had progressed relatively quickly for the first part, but the last few centimeters were taking longer than I had expected. Of course, there is no formula for how quickly a cervix dilates, but at the time, I figured if I got to 7/8 cm easily, the last 3 were going to happen fast too, right? My body was doing everything it was supposed to do, but exhaustion was setting in, and with that, a little bit of fear, but mostly pain. The hours passed, the contractions kept getting stronger, and we still didn’t have a baby.

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At around 6:30pm, almost 21 hours since I had felt my first little contraction, I was starting to feel like this baby was never going to come. At one point, I remember asking my midwife to “Just cut the baby out!”. We tried pushing to see if we could get the cervical lip out of the way, but it wasn’t moving. I was lying in bed, tossing and turning, trying to find the best position to cope with the surges, but they were very painful no matter what I tried. I looked at my husband and he knew what I was going to say, but as my biggest advocate, he was going to support the birth plan he knew I wanted. I was trying to be strong; I never once uttered that the contractions hurt, or that I was tired. I wanted the home birth I had been dreaming about for so long, but I was tired and tense. The more I tensed up my body to escape the pain, the less my contractions were working, but they still hurt just as much. I needed to rest, I needed a break. With a feeling of defeat, but great certainty that is is what I needed, I told my midwife that I needed help and wanted to transfer. At 9cm dilated, we grabbed our hospital bags, and transferred to the hospital.

The car ride to the hospital was horrible. My poor husband would have ran all the red lights if he could have, just to get there faster. My midwife had privileges at the hospital we transferred to, and walked right into a room when we got there; that was wonderful. I got some gas and air, and got an IV hooked up for all the things I was going to receive. I was GBS positive, and though we opted out of antibiotics for our planned home water birth, now at the hospital, I needed them. A pitocin drip was started, and still that last stubborn centimeter took 6 hours to dilate. The gas and air was wonderful, I was smiling away, but then that stopped working. The epidural was not part of my birth plan (planning a home birth), but at this point, I wasn’t refusing one, I was requesting one! The epidural was administered, and I wish I could say I was able to relax after, it really only took the edge off. I still moaned and groaned through my contractions, and adjusted my position on the bed as often I could with the restrictions of all the monitors on me. Several times, my midwife touched my thighs and belly and asked me if I could feel them, and I could.

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Though we had transferred to the hospital, I was happy to still be working with my midwife exclusively. She was sitting a few feet away from me the whole time; she’s just amazing. My family were great too; bringing snacks to the hospital, sleeping on the floor or sharing couches to get some shut eye, to keep me company while I slowwwwly dilated. I felt guilty that I was taking so much of everybody’s time, but it made so happy to know this was my birth team. I rested as much as I could, and when early morning came, I was fully dilated and ready to push. I asked for more privacy at this point, and the only people in the room where my husband, my midwife (and lovely birth photographer) and a hospital nurse who would come in every now and then. It was quiet and intimate, which is something I wanted for my home birth. As the epidural had not taken well, I was able to use my contractions to help me, but as a first time mom, I still pushed for about 2 hours.

On May 13th, at 6:58 am, 33 hours after I had felt my first contractions in my basement couch, after many hours of roller coaster feelings and emotions, my beautiful baby was born. Everything in the world made sense again. She was perfect. My midwife placed this beautiful little being on my chest. She wasn’t crying; she was calm, lifted her head, and looked straight into my eyes as if to say “Hi Mama”. We met earth side. After a few seconds, she let out the quietest cry, and they confirmed that she was indeed a little girl; my Penelope. My husband cut the cord, they cleaned her up a bit, and she was back on my chest, skin to skin.

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You never know how you’re going to react when you meet your child for the first time. My husband had the most wonderful tears of joy, and I, the emotional one out of the two,  had none – go figure, haha. I was so happy, the happiest I have ever been, and all I could do was smile. Penelope was big, bigger than what I thought a new born baby would be like (she was 9 lbs too), but at the same time, she was the smallest and most precious little thing I had ever held. We kissed her, counted her toes, said her name and caressed the softest of skin. While I delivered my placenta, my husband did skin to skin with her, and I treasure the pictures captured of that moment.

Labor was officially done. Penelope and I were doing well, my perineum was intact, and 3 hours after Penelope was born, we were on our way home.

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When we got home, I showered, then took a 4 hour nap with my new little family. It was perfect. After our nap, immediate family came over to meet Penelope, and for the rest of the evening, it was just the 3 of us; my new little family at home.

About 6 weeks later…

I got an email from my birth photographer letting me know that my photos and video were ready! My first reaction was excitement, and then I was nervous…

My birth had not gone as I had planned. I didn’t get the home birth I so very much wanted. We didn’t transfer due to an emergency; Penelope and I were healthy during the whole birthing process, it was me – I wasn’t able to do it. Would watching my birth video/photos bring back feelings that I had dealt with in the previous weeks? My baby was healthy, so was I, that’s all that matters! Yes, and no. I grieved the experience I didn’t get, and I feel incredibly guilty saying that, but it’s true. The birth experience is not a throw away. We all have a vision of how we want our births to be, and when we don’t get it, it’s sad. How can an experience that provides you the epitome of happiness and love the moment you meet your child, also be the same experience that, depending on how it went, can cause sadness as well. It’s a weird feeling, and for many weeks, I felt guilty that I associated a feeling of grief with the same experience that had brought me my beautiful daughter. I’m not the only woman who has felt this, and if you, the person reading this, has felt the same, know it’s OK to feel these feelings. It’s part of healing.

I sat in my photographer’s office, and I watched my birth video for the first time while Penelope nursed in my arms.

After watching it, I went upstairs, and she asked me “What did you think?” My first response, without thinking about it twice was, “I fell in love with Adam all over again”.

The woman misses a lot during the process of labor and delivery. Your body is doing a lot of work, and your mind doesn’t have energy to remember the details. I’m sure many women have thought “Oh, that’s right, that DID happen, etc” when remembering their birth stories. Just 6 weeks postpartum, I was watching my birth video and remembered things I had forgotten or missed. I was worried that my birth video was going to bring up feelings, and it did, but not the ones I thought. I saw my husband’s unconditional support during the entire process, the look of love and concern on his face, the tears when he saw his daughter for the first time. I’m tearing up just thinking about it.

I noticed something else watching my birth video. I didn’t feel as much pain as I looked like I did. I remember labor being very hard, but I didn’t remember it being that hard. Perhaps it’s Mother Nature’s way of protecting the woman; a way of allowing us to heal from childbirth, by making us forget the “labor” part of giving birth, but remembering everything else. Just 6 weeks postpartum, I felt like I had learnt so much from my labor and delivery, and was wiser and more prepared if I had to do it again right then and there.

Time is a wonderful thing. I write my daughter’s birth story 2 years after she was born, and I write it with so many feelings of gratitude and love for the birth experience I did have. It was different than what I had planned, but it was beautiful. It taught me to be humble to an experience which I have no control of, and to be grateful for the beautiful things that happened outside that control. I was able to witness the amazing love and support from the people around me; my family, my midwife, my amazing husband. Giving birth was my official journey into motherhood, my transition from woman to mother, but it was more than that, the experience was part of their journey too; my parents became grandparents, my sister became an aunt, my husband became a father. It’s a beautiful thing.

Giving birth to my daughter will always be one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I became a mother, I met the love of my life, and nothing takes away from that.

Thank you for reading. xo.

Oliver’s Birth Story here
My wonderful midwife, Teilya Kiely from Beginnings Midwifery Care in Edmonton.

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