By Tao Hipwell
The narrative that has been written by the major medical model about Type 1 Diabetic birth is not an uplifting one. It is etched into the uphill battle of glucose control and poor outcomes. It is sewn with needles of doubt, threads of care woven into a fabric of fear.
The doctors err on the side of caution, and carefully prepare us for an induction by Pitocin drip, followed by an almost certain caesarean. My interest in natural birth - in herbs and plant lore - fell short in their eyes of anything credible, while my use of yoga, meditation, and wellness was admirable at best, but no match for Western Medicine.
A Type 1 diabetic is not generally “allowed” to go beyond 38 weeks gestation, due to a higher rate of placental calcification. Say those words a hundred times over, and even the bravest of mamas will succumb in the name of love for her baby, will sacrifice her ideals and hopes around birth for the sake of “safety".
And so it goes. Another one for the operating table. Right? No.
I’ve had a wide spectrum of experiences giving birth. My first, a daughter, was stillborn at 26 weeks. Fetal Hydrops, pericardial effusion. Me, bringer of death. Months of rain followed her passing. Did that happen? Memory serves me still sideways in the wake of that grief.
And yet. When the team told us that our son was a healthy baby, I had this wild hope that I could still be the exception to the rule. The diabetic mama who conquered pregnancy. And so I set my mind to it that Fern’s death wouldn’t taint the story of my Motherhood as Bringer of Death, but rather as Awakened Life Bringer, deeply in touch with the price that is sometimes paid for the sweetness of filling our arms and hearts.
I successfully - and safely - induced my own labours for all three of my (big) boys, all at precisely 38 weeks, just before the dreaded medical induction - all using gentle induction methods that had been recommended to me by a trusted midwife.
Raspberry leaf tea, a friend for sugar control and wombs alike, was a daily concoction. Evening Primrose oil, taken orally and vaginally in the final few weeks of pregnancy, to ripen the cervix. A taste, just a teaspoon, of castor oil to get my labour going, and a cup of lightly brewed Blue Cohosh to regulate the contractions. My labours were similar in their intensity, and yet so unique, as each birth is.
As a seasoned mother with several births under my belt, and a trained doula, I was well versed in the possibilities for prenatal care and delivery. My eldest son was born at the hospital, and while we had fumbled our way all right through the labour and delivery, I had still felt snaked by the machine of the hospital, allowing them to take his blood over and over, my healthy baby subject to what seemed like a hundred unnecessary tests.
My second son was born at home. We had been taken on by a devoted and open-hearted midwife who wanted to see Good Things happen to people who were otherwise denied the opportunity. But insurance was a snag this time, and she couldn’t take us on, so we were looking at either a free birth at home, or a hospital birth for our third son.
This is the story of his arrival, my third boy, born at the cusp of the pandemic, during the first days of what has turned out to be a long stretch of new normal. Even knowing that losing our girl had been the unlucky draw of one in a thousand, we were haunted by it, humbled by the knowledge of what it means to have no celebration at the end.
And so, while the idea of bringing forth my child on the wild of my land - in the comfort of my farmhouse - was tempting, my boldness has its limits. A diabetic, birthing without a trained birth worker at home, was too reckless, even for me, and so I rallied to the idea of a hospital birth - if it could be on my terms.
This is something we so often forget when we arrive in the delivery wing - that advocating for your wishes is a right, and that birth can be a splendidly empowering experience. The thesis is, yes, to have a healthy, sweet babe to take home, but there can be more to it than simply an outcome. The journey, from the first twinges of labour to the roaring crowning of my little king, was an important part of the path that led me from Maiden to Mother.
My care this time around had been thorough, yet riddled with anxiety - especially in the early days of COVID-19, when the numbers of sick seemed to be booming in an unimaginable way, and the creep of the disease left all previously public spaces newly contaminated and wrought with danger.
Until then, I had towed my two toddlers along to all my appointments with me. We would arrive at the hospital from our rural farm smelling of goats and chickens, my one-year-old barely contained in the wagon, my three-year-old keeping his brother in check by the cuff of his sleeve. The high-risk OB that I had been assigned to this time around was much warmer than my last doctor, and I felt soothed by her presence, much as I had been comforted by my midwife in my last pregnancy. But restrictions were put in place leaving me feeling a sense of powerlessness in the face of the unknown. Suddenly, no one could accompany me, and I felt my certainty in overcoming the Rule, of being the Exception, weaken.
My partner had been flown to Prince Edward Island to work on a heritage project for a few weeks - he had left just before COVID hit, and his return was suddenly a huge question mark. He was a powerful ally for my previous births - keeping watch on my sugars, holding my hand through the hard stuff, sharing my delight in our sons. But as March began its slow melt into April, and the 38- week mark approached, I had to re-examine my birth plan. I resisted hiring a doula. Why? I don’t know. As a doula myself, I had friends in the field who would have gladly come to my side. But I had this sense of it being written, and so left my birth plan vague, my attendant unknown.
My partner was not able to get back in time because of travel restrictions and quarantine, so my mom was bound to keeping my little boys reassured and safe at home. When I went into labour, we packed everyone into the van and they dropped me at the hospital doors. My mom is many wonderful things for me, but not a birth partner.
In a non-COVID-19 world, even arriving alone would have been a different experience. I would have been offered a wheelchair, someone to carry my bag, to escort me to the birthing wing.
Instead, belly and I were screened by security and we then worked our way through the winding and deserted hospital corridors. I stopped every so often to lean up against the stark white walls with pictures of nature to help us to forget the Life and Death that haunts a hospital. It didn’t work, and I cursed myself for not planning this out better - for being alone now in labour, for feeling fear tightening in my chest, for not asking for the help of a friend when I had the chance.
When I arrived in the birthing wing, a young nurse named Danielle fixed her eye on me, and never left my side. She talked me through the tears, the fears, the doubts. She proved herself a better partner than I could have ever asked for, and we spent most of my six hours of labour, laughing about Best Laid Plans and Strangers in Strange Circumstances. She brought me a birthing ball and helped me walk around to get baby fully engaged down.
The nurses and doctors all wore full PPE, their eyes luminous over their masks, which was strangely inhuman in the throes of labour. It gave me a sense of giving birth among angels.
I was adamant that I wanted to have a medication-free delivery, and the hospital was able to offer that to me, for which I am grateful. I had been really looking forward to using hydrotherapy during labour to help cope with contractions, but because of the air-born nature of the virus, all showers and tubs were off-limits during labour. That left me with no options but to tough it out, or to manage pain with morphine or an epidural. I am lucky that this was not my first birth, as I knew deep inside that even in my moments of deepest doubt, I would persevere to deliver him.
The labour itself was a blur, as labour so often is. It comes to me in pieces. The sweet reprieve from the pain as each contraction ebbed. My legs restless, pacing, and then preparing for the onset of another wave. Crying into the crisp sheets, those throaty moans helping me to cope. Transition, spinning up at me.
Ah, yes, transition. A magical, jarring experience. Emptying my stomach all over my lovely nurse’s shoes, yellow with bile against the clean white of her uniform and floor. The rocking to and fro on the ball, bringing forth my tiny human and also birthing this warrior inside myself. Feeling her rise to the occasion and meet each contraction with a battle-axe and war cry, though it often came out in an exhausted, pain-drenched, sob.
The moment of “Now! He’s coming! He’s right There”. Of being told to “Wait! The doctor is on the way!”. Me, biting my lips, almost in laughter, in hysterics.
And so he was born to us, alone in that room, the nurse’s hands slippery over my own, his head full of black hair, and me on my knees giving it my all. He was almost four weeks early and weighed a whopping 10lb 12oz to the astonishment of the labour and delivery room staff. My biggest baby yet, yet so small compared to the big world I’d brought him into.
I named my son Yarrow, for the medicinal plants that grow among the wildflowers of our meadows. A plant with a myriad of uses, it staunches blood flow and reduces fevers, cuts pain and soothes the sick. It blooms white and yellow, with fern-like leaves unfurling as spring unfolds into summer.
May he bloom always, and may he carry the cure for whatever ails him. Just as we all carry the cure for what ails our tender mama hearts - for we are strong and capable and by talking about birth we reconcile the stigmas that became static in the early 20th century.
The very sterile notions of can’t and must that have no place in the birth room of today.
While the birth workers like Nurse Danielle, who anchored me down when I thought I might float away, who gave me a sense of sisterhood in a moment of utter alone-ness… They are the advocates incarnate for what birth can and should look like.
A tapestry of women weaving webs to create wellness and empowerment through birth.
And I’ll carry that with me always.
Tao Hipwell is a mama raising wild children on a small homestead North of Kingston. She has three little bears, er, boys, who love to read, explore the forests, cuddle, find wild herbs and foods, and play. She is a writer, yoga instructor, birth doula, and songwriter. She has felt a calling to holistic health and wellness. You can find her with tea in hand, babe on the boob, relaxing in the shade or making magic in the kitchen.
More moving birth stories
Did you miss the Birth Sharing Circle? Listen to some of the 2021 finalists telling or reading their own birth stories. Also, don't miss the introduction by Karen Lawford who talks about maternity care and Indigenous communities, and the musical performance by Kim June-Johnson. A truly beautiful and moving event.