By Varya Rubin
I am one of the lucky ones: I have a positive birth story to tell. If I had stayed within the purview of conventional medicine, things may well have turned out differently.
When I got pregnant with my first child, my husband and I wanted to allow the birth to unfold naturally, to follow our instincts, to experience this profound moment intimately and intuitively. A home birth was a natural choice. The provincially registered midwives we chose were wonderful. They were competent, caring, generous with their time and expertise, and very supportive of our commitment to birthing at home. Then everything changed.
I have a seizure disorder. When I discovered that I was pregnant I decided, under the care of my neurologist, to go off the anti-epileptic medication I was taking. All was well for a while, until I was five months pregnant and I had a grand mal seizure. It was frightening. Our midwives explained that my pregnancy was now considered high risk, and their insurance wouldn’t allow them to support me in a home birth. They could still attend me, but it would have to be in the hospital.
I was distraught. Hospitals are frightening, stressful places for me, and the opposite of where I wanted to give birth. The combination of stress and anxiety was exactly the sort of thing that could trigger one of my rare seizures. If that happened, a c-section was almost guaranteed. I was confused and scared. I had no idea what to do next.
When I was well into my seventh month, I auditioned for a vocal ensemble, and this is where my story turns again. The director was also a doula, and when she heard what I was going through, she put me in touch with her teacher, Gloria Lemay.
Gloria has been a birth attendant for more than thirty years. When midwifery was legalized and legislated in BC, she chose not to become registered, so as not to be in thrall to the medical establishment. This choice allows her to attend women like me, women who fall outside the jurisdiction of conventional midwifery, yet are still committed to birthing at home.
My visits with Gloria were rejuvenating. Her knowledge and passion around childbirth run deep. Every hour I spent with her was a powerful learning experience. Where medical practitioners had instilled fear, she gently encouraged me to trust my body’s innate wisdom, reminding me that my body already knew how to give birth.
The morning of January 3rd, 2006, I woke up to rain, and a new feeling in my belly. I didn’t wake my husband right away: I knew the day would be long, and I cherished the moment of wonder as I came to realize that I really was in labour.
As labour progressed, I moved in and out of the birthing pool we had set up in our bedroom. I shifted from floating to squatting. I rocked back and forth on my hands and knees, arching my back, following the pull of my body. I bellowed, I moaned, I vomited, I swore.
When my water broke, about six hours into my eight-hour labour, there was meconium in the liquid. If I had been with conventional midwives, I believe they would have been legally compelled to transport me to a hospital. Gloria simply monitored my baby’s heartbeat closely, to be certain it wasn’t in distress.
An hour later, my son was born into his father’s gentle hands, while my sister cradled my head in her lap. With Gloria as our guide, I felt completely safe, supported and loved throughout the most intense experience of my life.
16 months later, Gloria Lemay attended our daughter’s birth. It was equally magical. I feel truly blessed to have had such empowering birth experiences. I wish the same for all women.