All photos taken by our incredible birth photographer Jeanette Lee Portland,
Well better late then never I guess, after 5 weeks of life with a newborn, moving house and adjusting to being a Mummy of 4 I've finally found the time to share our birth story and pictures.
Looking back through my birth photos makes me feel very emotional. The journey of our labour and birth beautifully captured through the facial expressions of each family member. The mood, the emotions, the interactions. From the grimace indicating the intensity of my contractions, to the look of love in Jonathan eyes as he held me. The curiosity on Indi's face as the baby’s head was crowning and the sparkle in her deep blue eyes as Isla, declared to the room 'It’s a girl Mummy!' My goodness I get butterflies just thinking about it.
I could write pages but will try to keep it brief as these images tell the story better than any words. I've chosen to share even the most intimate of pictures, because birth is a beautiful and natural event, something to celebrate and share. And because such images help to normalize birth.
Our birth story
It was a beautiful sunshine-filled Saturday morning, maple syrup drenched pancakes were being devoured by all. We had dear friends visiting from Toronto and I was making us all a big packed lunch ready to set off to the Columbia River Gorge for a day of exploration. But by 9 am, I was pretty sure trekking with a panoramic back drop was not going to be the order of the day.
Signs of early labour commenced and after my second mug of raspberry leaf tea I called the birthing centre. The midwife agreed we should start making our way in, much to Jonathan's relief, as my three previous births had been quick, quite quick (number two had nearly come in the back of a New Delhi taxi en route to the hospital), so he was eager to see me arrive with time to spare. With an air of excitement and anticipation we loaded up the mini-van. Three adults, four kiddies and one empty car seat.
As a midwife and mummy of three, birth is my both my profession and passion, therefore making the right choice for our family about where I would birth to our 4th baby was extremely important to us.
As a midwife I know that women have the best outcomes in birth when they can be in an environment that feels good to them, that fulfills all their needs. To be surrounded by the people of their choosing and supported by medical practitioners that are familiar to them. My previous three pregnancies and births had all been low-risk, with great labours and births. Our last birth was a home water birth in Toronto, but our living situation at the time (a temporary rental home) just didn't feel right for a home birth. But I didn’t want to deliver in a hospital. I trusted my instincts and after lots of research opted to birth at the new Midwifery Birthing centre in Portland.
Birth is a special event in family life, one to be celebrated. Having our kiddies present seemed a very natural choice. Some women need a calm birthing environment, which I completely understand and respect. But I thrive off the energy and excitement of the kiddies.
On arrival at the birth centre I asked Michelle the Midwife to examine me. I was 5-6 cm dilated, but as contractions were still mild and irregular we opted to go for a walk and take the kids around the corner to a playground. It was a little surreal to be having contractions while pushing the kids on the swings but knowing we were just minutes away was reassuring. This served to keep the kids occupied, and staying mobile aided the decent of my babies head and the progress of labour.
As with all my previous labours, the contractions always remained very mild and irregular, after several hours I requested Michelle break my waters. She did and I quickly transitioned to feeling urges to push.
I could hear Isla cheering me on as the head was crowning, 'Just one more push Mummy!' 'Baby has lots of hair Mummy!' I placed my hand on baby’s head as it delivered then reached down to catch my baby and bring her up onto my chest.
When Isla said the words, 'It’s a girl,' her face beamed love and pure joy. She had the sister she had dreamed of. Her happiness brought tears
Fourth time around labour is no less intense, shorter maybe, less painful definitely not. Pushing your baby out may be faster but that moment when you feel your body start to push involuntarily, your baby’s head advancing, the split second you want it to stop...the intensity is too much...then...seconds later the pure relief as the baby’s head is born. Just several pushes stand between you meeting your new baby. The 4th time round, it’s just as magical.
Knowing this was the last time my body would do this - create and grow another life from scratch - this made the birth even more poignant. Feeling an inner peace that my family is complete (much to Jonathan's relief) and feeling proud of my body for guiding me on the journey into motherhood four times.
Our beautiful daughter Wren was born at 5.40 pm. She entered the room crying. A strong spirited beauty, covered in a thick coat of vernix.
Each of the kiddies experienced very different emotional reactions in the first few minutes following Wren's birth. Shear joy and exuberance from Isla as her big blue eyes sparkled with excitement. Indi, was completely overwhelmed. He spent the first 10-minutes crying uncontrollably ( he was very concerned about the blood on her head). And Theo, our thoughtful soul, quietly took it all in.
Once snuggles had been enjoyed by all, Jonathan and my good friend Amanda took the big kiddies home. He returned later and spent the night with Wren and I.
There is something incredible about that first post birth shower, washing away the hours of labour and birth, catching a glimpse of your no longer pregnant body in the mirror. A half smile you can’t loose. A proud 'I did it'. That 'I have a new baby' euphoria. Stepping out of the shower and into a warm cosy bathrobe with slippers, crawling into a cosy queen-size bed with my new baby and husband was delicious. Knowing my other kiddies were safe at home, sleeping. The prospect was bliss: the next 12 hours to enjoy my new baby and get a little rest before stepping into my new role as a Mummy of four.
A perfect experience in a perfect setting, supported by an amazing midwife, a dream come true for our family.
As I write this post, sipping on peppermint tea, Wren is sucking with vigor on my breast, what a blissful first month that was beautiful daughter. I feel so blessed and immensely proud to be your mummy.
A couple of questions many people have asked me since my birth
How were you so calm and patient with the kiddies while you were having contractions?
I'm not really sure. The kids definitely had their moments throughout the labour. Particularly Indi who was overly exuberant when in the birthing pool with me. Plus i had forgotten to pack swim nappies and of course he pooped in the pool so we all had to hop out (slightly disruptive to the labour process) to allow a quick clean and refill.
Labouring with children around is not for everyone. It was anything but quiet. We were all in the pool together. When I was on my hands and knees they crouched with me and eventually once my legs became weary we all moved onto the bed where I eventually birthed in the left lateral position.
Isla was captivated by the labour. She hugged and kissed me through contractions, sat on my knee as I bounced on the birthing ball. Even several weeks on we discuss the birth daily. 'Did it really hurt, Mummy?' 'I can’t wait to give birth!' I’m so excited that even at age four, birth astounds her. She views it so positively, my little midwife/doula in the making.
Why did you choose to have a birth photographer?
I first met Jenny while canning 160 jars of fresh strawberry jam with my mums group. A shared passion for birth and photography bonded us as we hulled strawberries until our fingers were raw. We connected, so learning she was a birth photographer I felt compelled to have her present at our birth.
Some may find birth photography a strange concept. Being photographed when you’re in that kind of pain, and, well, not looking your best. But to me women never look more beautiful than when birthing. Some women may worry that it’s invasive, that it will take something away from the experience but a truly talented birth photographer goes unnoticed. She captured our family and birth so beautifully. I will be forever grateful for these images and the calm and support she gave to me throughout.
Because in the moment, while focusing on breathing and getting through the intense contractions prior to pushing, I was in my own world. I had no idea what was happening around the room. Reviewing the photos, discovering the kids’ facial expressions, was like reliving the birth (just the good bits, minus all that pain).
Do you recommend the Women's Health Associates birth centre
The answer is a resounding yes. For women in Portland who are experiencing a low-risk pregnancy, but do not feel confident or able to birth at home, the birth centre is an amazing option. A wonderful relaxed and homely environment, continuity of care from a small team of midwives. Beautiful rooms, a lounge and kitchen area and just a very short transfer to hospital should an indication to transfer arise.
I would love to hear about your birthing experience, where did you choose to birth and why?
Thanks for popping in