Our beautiful little son, Paris, is now 14 months old. Today I want to share the story of his birth.
I have known Laura, the founder of Birthvoice for years, and when I was asked to create the Birthvoice website, I found the information provided on the site very interesting and valuable, even though at that time it did not directly affect me.
Then in 2010, after I had already given up hope of ever becoming a mother, I got pregnant. Even though I have a wonderful gynecologist who is very pro-natural, the idea of a hospital birth here in Greece (I am Austrian), with all the interventions which are common here, scared me. So it was only natural that I would turn to Laura, and to Birthvoice, looking for alternatives and support.
At first, I did not really consider a homebirth. I kind of thought that in order to have a homebirth, you had to “know” how to give birth, and that for a first-time mother this was too much. Instead, my husband Giorgos and I had discussed the option of the Centre for Natural Birth (no longer existing).
Then, through the Birthvoice meetings, this gradually began to change. I met other women who had had their babies at home, some of them first-time mothers, some of them experienced moms. Some young, some older, Greeks and foreigners, they all had a story to tell and their stories felt so right. Then, at one meeting, I found myself talking with E., a homebirth midwife, about birth options in Greece. At some point she said “you know, the important thing is what YOU want”, and without even thinking my answer came: “I want a homebirth”.
From the moment I had voiced this desire I had not even been fully aware of until then, the only thing that remained was convincing Giorgos. But my worries in this regard were completely unfounded: He said that since I was the one giving birth, it was my decision where felt most comfortable. Wow! And this from a Greek man! I was – and still am – impressed!
Planning our homebirth, we soon found our wonderful support team, a doctor and a midwife, both experienced in helping women give birth at home. During the later stage of my pregnancy, we met frequently, discussed the birth plan I had prepared, and they checked the baby’s growth and position and gave me advise on nutrition and exercise. (Valuable advise I want to point out! For example, I managed to get off the iron supplement my gynecologist had prescribed and which caused me terrible constipation – by eating molasses and drinking nettle tea, my iron levels even went up from when I had taken the supplement, and going to the toilet was no longer a torture).
My due date was mid January, but it came and went, and nothing happened. My doctor and midwife dealt with this issue very calmly: The baby knows when it is ready to be born, they said. They kept checking us frequently, and there was no cause for concern (and definitely not for an induction, as is so common with “overdue” babies).
Finally, two weeks after my due date, on February 1st, Paris decided that it was time to start his journey into the outside world. It was half past one in the morning, and I had just gone to bed after watching a DVD with Giorgos. I was tossing and turning in bed, unable to fall asleep, when I noticed what felt like menstrual cramps. After 41 weeks of pregnancy I had little doubt that this was “it”. The big day had come. My little boy was on his way.
Since I am not a very calm person by nature, sleep was no longer an option for me. Of course I knew that in this first, very early stage of birth I was supposed to rest and get some sleep if possible, but this theoretical information was of no use to me in my excitement. So after listening to Giorgos’ calm sleeping breath for a couple of hours, and to the sensations inside me which returned every fifteen minutes or so, I finally got out of bed and onto the couch, where I watched some more TV in order to pass the time. Giorgos came stumbling after me, half asleep, and I told him what was going on, but he agreed to go back to bed when I assured him that contractions were still mild.
At around 7 in the morning, I sent a text message to my doctor and midwife to let them know what was happening and to be ready. The midwife called back soon and asked how things were progressing. She told me to inform her whenever I wanted her to come, but I felt that it was early yet.
As the morning went on, my contractions became more intense. They no longer resembled menstrual cramps! I tried walking around the house, and moving my hips in a circular motion on my gymnastic ball. Giorgos applied pressure to my lower back, as we had “practiced” in the childbirth classes, but I noticed that I was not very keen on being touched.
At around 11 or 12, I am not very sure about the time I must say, the sensations became quite strong, and after one of these ended, I suddenly felt that I had to be sick. So there went my breakfast, and also my courage. I called the midwife and asked her to come. I was worried: In my endless hours of reading about birth and the way it progresses, I had never come across vomiting in the early stages. Instead, I had read that vomiting is common during transition, just before the baby comes. Was this it? And my midwife was not here yet!
When she arrived, she found me in bed, where I tried to rest between contractions and bouts of vomiting. I asked her to examine me internally, because I wanted to know what was going on – and well, her encouraging words “Almost halfway there” could not hide the fact that transition was a long long time away yet. I later found out that at this time, I was only three centimeters dilated. Well, just another panicky first time mom, what can I say!
I have only hazy memories of the following hours. Pretty much from the time the midwife arrived until a while after Paris was born, I was not really “there” and cannot recall events in a correct sequence. Contractions came and went, they were very intense, but short in duration. What got to me most was the frequent vomiting between contractions. Someone gave me water, I think with lemon or something tasty anyway, but I could not keep anything down. Also, I was tired from the sleepless night, and now started to realize that I should have slept and rested while this was still possible.
During the afternoon, the doctor arrived, and she took turns with the midwife and Giorgos keeping me company and comforting me. I was never alone, and I can recall hands stroking my shoulders and my back, but I don’t know who was with me at any particular time. At some point I got into the pool – an inflatable children’s pool which must have taken ages to fill – I did not even notice!
I must have stayed in the pool for what was it – 2 hours maybe? Even though the water did not bring me much relief, I liked being there for a while. But at some point, I started losing courage, and felt so tired! My progress was stuck at around 8 or 9 centimeters, and I felt like nothing was progressing, this was endless, and I wanted some rest.
Was this transition? Or was I just weak? By now it was dark outside, and I felt like giving up. And I know I would have, in any other setting. Had I been in the hospital, oh, I would have taken that Epidural or anything else they had to offer me. (Apart from the fact that it is very likely that in a hospital, they would have “rushed along” my labor with synthetic oxytocin instead of patiently waiting for nature to do its work).
But there I was, at home – and my husband’s amazingly calm presence, my midwife’s and doctor’s encouraging words somehow got me through this phase.
My contractions, at that point, were very strong and came soon after the other. I was on the bed for a while, on all fours, but nothing happened. Then someone suggested I should try sitting on the toilet. From then on everything went very fast. Sitting on the toilet, I could suddenly feel that my baby was moving down, there was this enormous stretching sensation and contractions changed completely. They seemed to grip my entire body. I remember thinking, and maybe saying aloud, “Oh my god, he is tearing me apart!” I wanted to go back to the bed, away from the toilet, to slow things down, but I could not really move any longer. Somehow, with assistance, I made my way back to the bed.
Back on the bed, on all fours again, the final stage of birth had finally come. And it was so different, so very different from everything I had heard, read about, or seen on endless birth videos. So much talk about how exhausting pushing is, and then, when the baby crowns, how you should breathe fast and flat in order to “ease the baby out”. During this final phase of Paris’ birth, which is most vivid in my memory because it was so intense and so – well almost shocking at the time, I did not give one voluntary push. Instead, my entire body, with each contraction, went into “auto-pilot”. I think all this happened very fast, these overwhelming contractions which totally took over my body were only few. (I do not recall any pain at that point – it was just like an enormous power going through my body and doing all the work of pushing Paris out very fast. Later I read birth stories where other women described a similar experience in the last stage of birth. One described her contractions were like a “freight train” going through her, and I could relate to that!)
When the baby crowned, my midwife was facing me, encouraging me without words to breathe fast and flat, actually breathing for me so that I could imitate her. I tried, how I tried, I wanted to “ease” the baby out slowly, in order to avoid tears. But it was just impossible. Another of these freight-train contractions came, and there was just nothing in the world I could do to slow it down or to stop it. Paris’ head was born, and I remember reaching between my legs to touch him. I asked if he was ok, the time between this and the final contraction seemed endless. And then it came, and with one final push of my body (not a voluntary one of me) Paris literally jumped into the doctor’s waiting hands. (Giorgos later described this to me, how he came flying).
The next thing I remember: Tiny little Paris, all red and wrinkly on the sheets between my legs, screaming! What a voice! What a moment! The biggest moment of my life, these very few seconds which stretched into eternity, when I saw my son for the first time, these few seconds before my instinct made me hold him close and comfort him and warm him up, and show him that I would protect him forever! I will never be able to describe what I felt at this moment. A gigantic rush of love, a love so intense and overwhelming, there are no words.
It was a few minutes before 11 in the evening when Giorgos and me snuggled on the bed, with newborn Paris on my belly, stroking him, admiring him, and experiencing moments of undisturbed bliss. Paris cried for a while, but with his umbilical cord still attached, he soon found my breast and started to nurse. Without any need for intervention, the placenta was born a while after, and when the cord had stopped pulsing, Giorgos separated Paris’ and my physical bond by cutting the cord.
The doctor and midwife stayed with us for a few more hours, checked on Paris and me every once in a while but so very discreetly that I don’t even remember what they did. They never took Paris from me, and did not intrude into our first hours together. The only time we were separated was when I got up for a quick shower.
Finally, I guess it must have been around 2 in the morning, they left and it was just the three of us, a family now.
I want to say that I experienced Paris’ birth as long and intense, and that I lost courage on the way. But then, many women do at some point during labor, and I believe that the outcome depends largely on how the people around them react to that, and what kind of support is offered.
I am eternally grateful that I had the homebirth I wanted, and that Paris was born without any intervention into the home where he belongs. I know that had I been in a hospital, I would have accepted painkillers and interventions would have happened. As it was, even though Paris’ actual birth happened so quickly, this must have been another of nature’s wise ways. I was tired and exhausted after many hours of labor, and would not have had lots of strength for “pushing” – as it happened, I did not need any. (And Paris jumped into the world without hurting me, there was just a minor tear which did not need any stitches and healed quickly)
Today, Paris is a happy and bright little boy full of confidence, with a sunny character and an openness to new people and experiences which does not cease to amaze me. (Neither Giorgos nor me are particularly extroverted and social). I believe that the way he was born, into a warm, loving environment without ever being separated from his parents during these first hours of his life gave him the best possible start in life and planted a feeling of emotional stability and security which will be with him for the rest of his life.