It’s that time of year when I usually reflect on the work I’ve done since last January 1st and highlight my top ten jobs. This year I only did a handful of shoots including rebranding for Prince Edward County resort Willow Cove and baby sleep whispering service Baby Sleep Love. Add a few family portrait sessions into the mix and that about sums it up. My real work this year was in becoming a mother. I never knew a love like this existed. Shortly after Rhea Madeline Mussio made her way earthside I wrote an essay about the birth process. In lieu of professional highlights this year, I will leave you with this very personal account:
Birth of a Mother
My greatest fear was Motherhood. There is a school of thought made use of by creatives in which, if you find yourself feeling stuck in a rut and without direction, purpose, drive or inspiration, you ask yourself what you are most afraid of and start there. We harbour fears in our bodies and minds in a variety of debilitating ways. This practice of facing whatever you are most afraid of first and foremost unblocks stuck energy, making room for increased flow and growth. With this practice in mind, I opened up my head and heart to the possibility of becoming a mother.
There were a multitude of causes behind my fear. I have four siblings thirteen to sixteen years my junior which gave me an up close and personal teen’s-eye-view to the ebbs and flows of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. There was no icing on the way that cake was presented to me and through its raw ingredients my fears were born. Would I even be able to conceive if I tried? Could I withstand the pain of giving birth? Would I destroy my body? Would I be up to the incredibly selfless task of raising a happy and healthy human being? Could I manage the roles of wife and mother? Would I be able to make enough money to provide for my family in a lifestyle we were comfortable with? What if I had to get an episiotomy and the doctor sliced through all my pleasure nerve endings and I would never be able to orgasm again? What if I had to give birth in a mask, in a total stranger’s care, who could be a trigger happy male doctor eager to give a c-section because his shift was coming to an end? Honestly, I could go on and on. I was terrified.
And yet, true to my new creed, I recognized that perhaps, at 36-years-old, happily married and feeling secure in myself and my life on all fronts, this fear of Motherhood may well be holding me back from an era full of love and joy like I’ve never known. In the heat of late Summer 2021, after a weekend full of fireworks, figs, champagne, swimming, languorous loon calls in the dead of night, suntanning, blue jay sightings and lovemaking at the cottage celebrating our first year of marriage I found myself smiling down at two blue lines on a pregnancy test. The road to Motherhood had begun.
I didn’t really look or feel pregnant until month seven so it was easy for me to ignore. My husband and I were busy house hunting. We moved from downtown Toronto to a picturesque home in the country. Once we had completed the herculean tasks of renovating, moving and settling in enough to have mental space for something other than the house, I realized it was probably time for me to start to think about a birth plan. I met with a doctor in my new rural neighbourhood referred to me by my downtown doctor and all my fears of a hospital birth came flooding back. I also have a deep fear of male doctors, probably from prior trauma, and you get whoever is on call when you are admitted. Not to mention the significantly increased statistics of intervention by induction, epidural, episiotomy, vacuum, forceps, and/or c-section that come with hospital births. I got home from that meeting eager to explore the option of a home birth.
At seven months my chances of getting into midwife care were slim to none. I reached out to a friend who had recently graduated midwifery school and asked her advice. She miraculously had a classmate who was working at my local clinic, made a call, and I was in! It was an angel intervention. The care from the midwives was infinitely more suited to me. They are hands off and dedicated to offering the mom-to-be all her options and giving her the room to decide her path. They deemed my pregnancy low-risk and I was cleared to plan for a home birth. I set about preparing my home for the main event. At well over two hundred pounds in month nine I was ready to get that baby out. I read somewhere that walking was a good way to induce labour so I set out on a ten thousand step walk with my cousin. Waddle is more like it actually. There was a warm, light rain falling. Upon our return home I felt my baby descend deep into my pelvis. It was uncomfortable and made walking even more difficult. I gathered my baby had “dropped” as they say and was delighted at the progress toward labour. This drop was to dictate my birth story.
A few weeks later, after a long, luxurious shower and a juicy chapter of Ayn Rand’s ‘The Fountainhead,’ I lay my head down to sleep when I felt a wetness on my thighs. I stood up to go to the bathroom and splat! My water broke at 12:36AM on April 20th, 2022. Of course we would have a 4/20 baby, was my first thought. Then I prayed to the great Goddess to give me the strength to get through what was to come. I gently woke up my husband and told him the news. We went back to bed very excited about the day ahead. We were becoming parents!
A few mild contractions came throughout the evening. We woke up with the sun. My husband was elated, playing records and singing at the top of his lungs as he readied the house for our new addition. Our midwife had us come into the clinic around noon to make sure everything was safe. She ruptured my second membrane with a knitting hook and told me I was 2 cm dilated and completely effaced. All good news and I was still on track to have a home birth. I went back to bed with a cocktail of Advil, Tylenol, Gravol and Gatorade keen on getting some rest while I could.
The labour continued sporadically. As the clock turned to midnight I was feeling performance anxiety. My mother and husband were both asleep at the house and I was left wondering why my body couldn’t seem to get into a rhythm. My contractions were all over the place; some close together and then an hour break. I was wondering if I needed to be alone to go within and completely focus on the task at hand. Or maybe I would turn S.P.I.C.E.’s new album on full blast and dance the baby out? It was April 21st. I tried to sleep.
Throughout the night I had many strong contractions. I could feel my body opening up. I was glad to focus on them as my mum and husband slept. Throughout the day I was alternately doubled over in labour pains and passing the time pleasantly playing Scrabble, eating a delicious meal, watching a movie and having a bath. As soon as I felt a rush coming on I would go inside myself and focus on my breath. As long as I did this routine the contractions were manageable, but if I was distracted in any way and didn’t catch my breath in time the pain of the rushes would spin out of my control.
At 4PM on April 21st the midwife came to the house and gave me the terrible news that my baby’s head and hand were stuck in the dangerous posterior position deep in my pelvis and not moving. My baby had been nestled in there, in that same position, since my silly ten thousand step walk a few weeks prior. I was forty hours into labour at this point. The risk of infection was increasing with every tick of the clock. The midwife said that most of my pain so far had been due to back labour or false labour. I was told I would probably need to go to the hospital for induction to strengthen my contractions to encourage the baby to become unstuck. I had been using the strength of the contractions to try and open my body up until that point, when I should have been using it to lift my baby out of my pelvis so she could readjust. I wanted a chance to try and change her position now that I knew what was wrong. There was a grave moment when a doctor was consulted who recommended we go to the hospital right away. Everyone was encouraging me to do so, but I was desperate to try on my own with my new knowledge. The midwife gave us some massage techniques for moving babies in the womb and a few anti-gravity positions I could try. The midwife left and I set about getting that babe unstuck. I was upside down doing downward dog, cat/cow, headstands even, for the next few hours. Then I went to bed with my husband and he lovingly and forcefully worked with me to massage through the pains attempting to move the baby for what seemed like an eternity. As the clock ticked over midnight again into April 22nd he finally passed out from exhaustion.
At this point I went into what I can only describe as a state of deep trance. The whole of my consciousness was focused on the infinite depths of connection within. I kept up my breath work with every wave of pain, but now I was focusing each breath and each contraction on finding the root and becoming unstuck. With each wave I got closer to the point of contention. That little girl’s head wedged with her hand tucked right in there, surrounded by the forces of nature urging her out, but unable to budge from her tight spot. I was in that trance for the whole night, completely in my breath and focused on the task at hand. As the sun rose, I conceded that I had given the natural process my absolute best shot, but I was in need of some help. The midwife agreed. We met her at the hospital an hour later.
I was seven centimetres dilated when I checked into the hospital which was great news! All my work up to that point had not been all false labor after all. They hooked me up to a mainline and a Pitocin drip right away and my contractions started coming stronger and more regularly. I was wearing two sports bras and a cozy nightgown. As the pains got ever stronger my attempts at modesty were actually holding up the labour progress. It took me a couple of hours to give up all my dignity, strip naked, get onto all fours and scream like a banshee in front of my husband, the nurse and midwife. Birth is a lot of things, but dignified certainly is not one of them.
After four hours of pushing at ten centimetres dilated my midwife brought me this little white plastic dish with a sponge on it and told me it was the vacuum. We were in need of some heavier intervention to help me get the baby out. I again conceded. I needed help. At sixty hours of labour I was getting tired and worried I wouldn’t have enough energy left to finish the job.
As soon as I agreed to the vacuum the room filled with people. Like, fifteen people. There was a huge surgical light fixed upon me and a strange male doctor between my legs. My husband, who had been right by my side until then, was muscled out of the way by strangers in smocks, and my legs were wrested apart by my midwife and a nurse. They cranked up the Pitocin to the maximum amount and attached the vacuum to my baby’s head. After the first contraction in this position I quickly realized I would not be able to put my legs down and rest between contractions as I had been. I was now split wide open until this baby came out. My mind started to unravel. I was losing it. I felt like a wild animal about to be slaughtered. I was ready to give up, but the contractions were almost constant now. After seventeen minutes of this constrained vacuum treatment, the doctor said it was time to cut the baby out. I was ready to agree to anything at that point, but my midwife and husband rallied for me and said that was my worst nightmare. Another contraction came mid-decision. My midwife slapped my face and head and yelled at me to push; that we did not go through a sixty-four hour labour to give it all up now. They jerked my legs open even wider and I pushed so hard I thought I was going to turn inside out when a miracle occurred. The baby was born.
My daughter entered this world mere seconds before I would have had an episiotomy most likely followed by a c-section. Thank Goddess for my fierce midwife and my husband who wouldn’t let me give up! To have a baby vaginally in a stuck, posterior position without any pain management is an extremely rare case. I now know I am superhuman strong and cannot be hurt. Pain is a state of mind. The depths of feminine power run deeper than I ever imagined.
All of my fears came true. I certainly did not have the birth I wanted, but I am still alive with a healthy baby girl. A baby, a father and a mother were born that day, April 22nd, 2022.
Now, with my biggest fear conquered, I have to figure out what’s next. I am scared of so many little things with this precious new life in tow like, going to the grocery store for the first time and driving in the car with her for the first time. Perhaps my next big fear is growing into this new full life where I am responsible for a vulnerable little human, but also still want to be me? It’s a full-on identity crisis. Growing is always a little uncomfortable, but what is the alternative? Stagnant complacency? No, thank you. I choose to be reborn as many times as this short life will allow.