“Birth is not only about making babies. It’s about making mothers – strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and believe in their inner strength.” – Barbara Katz Rothman
“This may sound a little strange, but I didn’t want my labor to end,” says Ellie Jones near the end of our interview as she reflected back on her forty-eight hours in labor. “I had devoted my life to the care of others. I was a nurse, a nanny, a doula. When I was in labor, it was the first time in my adult life I gave myself permission to be cared for. I allowed it and I didn’t want it to end.”
My conversation with Ellie about her birth journey was full of positive, surprising anecdotes like the one above. Ellie is a woman that glows when she talks about this time period, despite the natural lows that accompanied it.
From my experience, not all mothers share her zest for those last few hours of pregnancy, let alone the last few months. Pregnancy can be a sensitive topic. “I often have to temper my enthusiasm around mothers who may have had different experiences,” Ellie readily admits.
As I listened to her tell her story, it became clear that while Ellie’s experience is certainly unique, it is an experience that nearly all women have access to.
To doula or not to doula
Because of her experience as a doula, Ellie recognized the importance of having a doula at her own birth.
Ellie became a doula five years ago to support pre- and postpartum women emotionally and physically. She studied to become a DONA with Sophia Cannonier at Lotus. Since then, Ellie has assisted in all types of home and hospital births, ranging from average to traumatic cases. She says, “What I realized, aside from health issues, the main thing that determines your birth experience is your frame of mind. You have to mentally be prepared for what you’re going to experience. You have to be strong enough and have enough confidence in yourself that whatever comes up in your birth – emotionally, spiritually, psychologically and physically – that you can deal with it. And that is why having the right support with you is so important.”
“Is this the type of support you receive from a doula or from family members, or both?” I ask. She answers:
Yes, definitely a doula,” she says and then laughs, “Not family members.” She is joking, but in her field, there is a ring of truth to her statement. Back in England, where Ellie is from, she often gets questions about what being a doula entails. She explains, “If you need to fix your car, you don’t take it to just anybody. You take it to a mechanic – someone who knows what they’re doing.” Similarly, a doula is someone who is trained to assist a woman during childbirth. Many times, the family members surrounding you during your birth have never experienced birth themselves, let alone witnessed one. Instead, they’ve been conditioned by media and movies, and they have their own fears about what’s going to happen in that room. In the instances that you do have another woman in there with you who has given birth, she is most likely bringing all of her emotional experiences with her. When it comes to the father or partner in the birthing room, if he or she is at all uncomfortable with the birthing process, it becomes even more valuable to have the support of a doula.
If you’ve never seen a birth before, to then suddenly be witnessing the person you love most in the world going through what can seem like a pretty traumatic and terrifying experience, and then being completely helpless and not knowing what you can do can feel overpowering. You might have been to all the birth classes, but when it comes to it, you just kind of sink or swim.
Ellie makes it clear that having a doula is just as important for the partner and the surrounding family as it is for the mother. “It’s fifty-fifty. You always have to know where your boundaries are. It’s not about taking over, or taking anything away from either of the parents. It’s like a triangle. A triangle is always stronger than two sticks on their own.”
Home is where the birth is
Ellie became pregnant at age thirty-five, three years after assisting in her first hospital birth as a doula. Soon after that experience, she assisted in a home birth delivery. “It just clicked,” she says. “I told myself if I ever have a baby, I’m doing home birth.”
Ellie was fortunate and experienced no health implications during her pregnancy. She made minor changes to her already health-conscious diet and exercise routines, such as cutting down on sugars, upping her daily intake of probiotics (sauerkraut and kombucha), and joining Lotus’ prenatal yoga classes. “I loved the classes,” she says, “I received the biggest benefit from simply being surrounded by a community of supportive women.” She also maintained her lifestyle of swimming, meditating and kirtan.
Interested in Home Birth?
As Ellie prepared for her home birth, one of her first steps was to select a midwife assistant. She chose Deb Gowen, who has almost thirty years of experience as a Women’s Health Practitioner. Deb conducted an interview with Ellie, which allows the midwife to ensure that each potential client is a good match for her services. After they both agreed it was the right fit, the two spoke a few times a month and Deb accompanied Ellie to a few doctor’s appointments.
Ellie stopped working about two weeks before giving birth. Her mother came to visit from England and the two rekindled their relationship. “We cleaned the house,” Ellie laughs, “Actually, she cleaned the house and I kind of helped. We went to the beach, did a lot of swimming. Ate really great food – my mom’s a fantastic cook. And I just nourished my body and rested. We had gentle walks on the beach in the evening. All very romantic – just with my mom. I had never been very close with my mother. Those two weeks turned out to be so healing for our relationship.”
The day before she entered into labor, Sophia and Michael (Founders of Lotus Home Birth Center) set up the pool and fairy lights in Ellie’s living room. Everyone gathered for the birth meeting, which included Deb (midwife), Ellie’s mother, two doulas, and Sophia. Ellie used this time to discuss her wants at the time of birth. Her attention to detail was no doubt a result of her assistance in the births of other women.
Her list of wants included:
- Complete silence in the room during the birth
- Only one person to take photos
- To be the one to catch her son and place him on her own chest
- To deliver in the water
- Delayed cord clamping
- After birth, to be able to get into her own bed and sleep
At 1AM, forty-eight hours before she was to give birth, she woke up with a start. Her body felt like it “flipped a switch,” and she knew that Kaelan was on his way. She immediately picked up her pregnancy journal – a journal she used to write entries to her son while he was in the womb – to write: “Dear baby, I just felt labor start properly. I’m really excited for this journey we’re going to take together. I really trust you. I trust my body. You’re going to be born at home. It’s going to be peaceful. It’s going to be a wonderful experience. I know it’s going to be hard for you, but I promise you it’s all going to be worth it.” After, she went outside and looked up to the stars, feeling both tiny and powerful all at once.
She woke her mom up and told her that Kaelan was on the way. “Well, we don’t need to go anywhere!” her mom laughed. “What do you want to do?” And then, “I know, let’s make a cup of tea.” Because, as Ellie says, that’s her mom’s answer to everything.
Ellie went to John Smith’s Bay to get into the water later that morning. As she swam in the ocean, her mom filled the pool at home. Neighbors chipped in by boiling hot water on their stoves and bringing it over. When she arrived back home, she showered and invited her friends over. “It was a bit of a party. Friends kept dropping by. There was music playing. My mom was feeding everyone. And then, it got to the point where I realized, ‘It’s probably time for everyone to go. This is about to get serious.’”
As nighttime approached, Deb examined her dilation. Ellie asked her not to report a number. She had seen how damaging numbers can be to a woman’s mental framework during the birthing process. “When you tell a woman she’s at 3 centimeters after however many of hours of labor, it makes the woman feel like nothing. It can ruin the rest of her time in labor.” Instead, Ellie asked that Deb simply say whether she was staying the night or returning in the morning. Deb said that she would report back in the morning.
6 Tips from Ellie:
1. When it comes time for the glaucoma test, avoid that nasty syrup the doctor gives you. Instead, opt for eating organic jelly beans!
2. Take vegan, organic prenatal vitamins, such as Source of Life Garden. These should contain folate, NOT folic acid.
3. If you’re delivering at home, consider getting snacks and pre-cooking meals for everyone involved. It may be a long journey!
4. Keep a pregnancy journal.
5. Encapsulate your placenta. Ellie not only encapsulated her placenta, but she also consumed raw pieces, adding it to smoothies for the first three days postnatal. She experienced no baby blues and no issues with milk production.
6. Videotape the birth. Ellie says her only regret is not catching the birth on video.
In the morning, Ellie began to experience excruciating pain in her lower back and unrelenting heartburn. In addition to physical pains, or perhaps because of them, Ellie says, “Labor has the tendency to bring out a very selfish child in all of us.” She felt that her labor had stalled. When her midwife returned, she examined Ellie’s belly and found that the baby was posterior (the baby’s spine was to the mother’s spine), which was causing Ellie’s tremendous back pain. Deb asked Ellie to rock back and forth on her bed to relieve Ellie’s pubic bone from where the baby’s head was resting. It took her every ounce of strength to repeat this motion. She imagined herself as a warrior going into battle, and it was during these toughest moments that she found her power.
Finally, it was time to get into the pool. She closed her eyes and spoke to her son. She could feel him moving down the birth canal and pictured him in her mind. “I knew he was working so hard at this point. This was almost forty-eight hours after I entered into labor. It had been a long time.” There was one quote on the wall that kept her grounded, as she got closer to finally seeing her son: “Your contractions are not bigger than you because they are you.”
That’s when Deb whispered in her ear, “We’re almost there. You don’t have to push if you don’t want to. You’ve done all of the hard work already.” Deb asked Ellie to put her hand below and she could feel his head. She felt stinging, but Deb reminded her to stay calm and keep breathing. With some help from Deb, she was able to guide her son to her chest.
“Oh, it was wonderful. It was so wonderful,” says Ellie.
I get the chance to meet Kaelan as we finish talking. He has big brown eyes, curly hair and olive skin. “I knew that my birth would set the tone for how I mother,” Ellie says as Kaelan nurses. She says:
If I had been in a hospital, it would have been a C-section. There’s no way I would have been allowed to go that long. My labor stalled for a good ten hours, maybe. But it was the emotional side. The medical field doesn’t have the time, the training or the energy to support women through the emotional side properly. Because a lot of stuff comes up when you’re giving birth. And a lot of the stuff I thought I had already dealt with came back up. And because I had those women around me, supporting me and loving me, in my own home and my own space, I could work through all of that. I could have the birth I had been envisioning for years.
Ellie’s birth didn’t just set the tone for who she is as a mother; it set the tone for Kaelan and the relationships around him, as well. He’s fearless, she tells me, and he’s a real water baby. At only three months old, he was already submerging his head under water and continues to do so now. As for the doulas present during his birth, they’re now his godmothers. And the rest of the team that was present? They continued to provide postpartum support for Ellie, and they’re now among her best friends in the world.