Gentle Homebirth of Mirabelle in Winnipeg, Canada by Elliana Gilbert
Photographer: Elliana Gilbert
It was the morning of the 12th of December in Winnipeg, Mb, Canada; I was asleep, when at around 4 in the morning, I got the call from Brian, Melissa's husband, that things were intensifying, and they believed this was it! and that their midwives had been called over as well. I shot right out of bed, heart racing, eyes widening immediately and a great big grin taking over my no longer groggy face. I zipped through all my things, got some clothes on, whispered to my husband that he was to be in charge on homebase that day because I had to run to a birth! One of the very best things I have to tell him nowadays - see ya Hun! I'm off to do what I love the most!
It was a cold crisp night, and the moon!!!! Oh the moon! December's full moon was but 2 days later, so the early hours of December 12th presented to me an almost-full moon that glowed so incredibly bright, and SO large across the horizon! When I noticed it in the sky, I so badly wanted to pull over on the shoulder of a road, and snap a photo or two of it, to show Melissa later on... but, well, first and foremost I was worried that would cost me getting there on time, and secondly, when I finally had the opportunity to pull over, a long, thick cover of cloud shrouded the moon and continued to cover it for the rest of my drive over... so, I reluctantly gave up on trying to photograph it, and decided I would simply tell Melissa and Brian about it when the time was right. I can still remember how beautiful it looked in the sky, almost dancing on the rooftops of the suburbs I drove through on my way to their home across town.
When I hustled into their home, it was quiet. I silently unpacked and snuck down the hall and around the corner to find Melissa in the birthing pool... quiet chants playing in the background, candles lit, lights dimmed, and an aura of peace and tranquility so thick, it hit me like a wave of molasses... slowing me right down, like I had been thrown into slow-motion.
Melissa was quiet and extremely focused on her breath. There was a level of sacredness in her space that was so heightened that I felt completely hushed, and completely invasive in my being there. I reluctantly snapped a photo here and there, reminding myself that it was Melissa's wish that I be there and document this for her. I had to consciously talk myself into taking photos because everything in my heart and mind was telling me to keep silent and leave the room, it just felt so intimate and so powerful. Or, I could just be left to crouch down in a corner and watch her in awe, because she was such a glorious vision. Her eyes were more often closed, her lips pursed but slightly open in controlled breathing, her shoulders low and relaxed, her neck long and graceful, her breasts shiny and glistening from the water below and her gorgeous necklace and chest art glowing colourfully in the darkened room. She was like a shrine to Mother Earth, Goddess of Fertility herself. I felt like I was in a place of worship, and she whom I worshipped was sitting before me in the birthing pool. It felt wrong snapping photos of this deeply spiritual experience. But I did. Just here and there. There was no need to shoot continuously, because there was not much happening on the surface. She was slow and steady, quiet and steadfast, working hard on the inside, moving through each surge with such poise and elegance... I couldn't really tell how far along she was (as is sometimes the case, based on the sounds a laboring woman makes)
Her midwives took a similar hands-off approach. Quietly seated nearby, watching, listening, saying very little, just being there, holding space. Her husband Brian periodically came by to offer water, but mainly, he sat close by and offered a gentle touch on her shoulder or back, as she moved through increasingly powerful waves of imminent birth. At one point their younger son awoke and came over to see what was going on.... soon after he went back to sleep, and proceeded to sleep through all the oncoming events of that morning - which I found quite amazing, all things considered!
Little Mirabelle arrived less than 90 minutes after I arrived, with Melissa on her knees, leaning against the side of the birth pool and her midwife assisting to catch her baby and promptly move her in front for Melissa to grab hold of her and embrace her lovingly. It was seamless and peaceful and totally on Melissa's terms. Her husband Brian was there the whole time, giving her sips of water with his hand gently perched on her shoulder, or just lingering nearby, ready to be more tactile if needed. After the birth of the placenta, Melissa was encouraged to transfer to bed so that her bleeding could be monitored more reliably. So Brian had some beautiful skin to skin snuggles with his baby and Melissa settled into bed where her son was still asleep.
Then, roughly an hour or so after Mirabelle's birth - possibly even less - after several fundal (uterine) checks by the midwives, Melissa mentioned she was feeling dizzy. We looked at her straight away and saw that she had gone pale, and her eyes were losing focus, rolling back, and she was no longer fully conscious. Suddenly, the serene, warm, and safe space in that room shifted to a quick-acting, quick-thinking emergency situation where the midwives demonstrated for all present just how incredibly competent and well trained they are at saving the lives of their clients. Both midwives rushed into high gear, and delegated tasks to both Brian and myself. An intravenous was started, IV fluids pushed, synthetic oxytocin administered, bimanual compressions of the uterus were done, a catheter was inserted, EMS was called, while we all loudly talked to Melissa and engaged with her to keep her as alert as possible. The ambulance arrived within a few minutes, and a flurry of activity poured into the house. With great relief, I could see that she was coming around and stabilizing even before the EMS crews took over... but in a blink of an eye, Melissa was taken to the hospital, and Brian and I were left at the house with Mirabelle and two groggy kids just beginning to wake up. I helped Brian in every way that I could, in getting ready to head to the hospital with Mirabelle in tow. In the meantime, her temperature had dropped a bit, while the front door was left open for the crews to arrive with their stretcher. Midwife Susan asked me to lay down with Mirabelle, close to my chest, and she applied a warming blanket on top of us, to help her regain her temperature. I was desperate to help, and obliged wholeheartedly, pressing this dear little baby close to my heart, murmuring every possible wish I had in me for her Mama to make a full recovery. And I knew that she would. But I still prayed!
Even though I was hired as a birth photographer, I was, and am always, prepared to take on the doula role too. I fully commit to my clients, whether they are personal friends or beautiful people new in my life. I am always ready to roll up my sleeves and help in whatever way I am able. That day was not without some degree of unpredictability. When I arrived early that morning, I had no idea things would end up at the hospital. But that's how birth is sometimes. Whether it is a low-risk uneventful birth in hospital and then suddenly requiring more intervention, or whether it is a perfectly wonderful homebirth, which suddenly requires a larger team to help with recovery, and therefore needs a trip down to the hospital. The important thing to take home from this story is that midwives are such an incredible force of knowledge and competence and resourcefulness. They know exactly how to resuscitate if that is required. They know how to move fast under incredible pressure. I used to work as a nurse. I worked with large interdisciplinary teams, and watched physicians and nurses operate just like this under pressures of all kinds, from all directions. And these midwives, that day at Melissa's homebirth, showed me that they are no different from the doctors and nurses in the emergency room. I was so impressed that I wrote to the Manager of Midwifery Care, at the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, to pass on my accolades and express my gratitude towards these amazing women I had the honour of working alongside on December the 12th, 2016.
Melissa made a full recovery from her postpartum hemorrhage and was discharged home quite quickly after being observed and cared for thoroughly in hospital. I just want to end by saying just how memorable this homebirth was for me, on so many levels. Melissa was a goddess, during her labour and birth of Mirabelle. She was empowered and she was strong. Despite the bleeding that happened after, when I think about Melissa's birth story, I think about that green blue aura in her birth space, how serene and calm it was, her pink healthy skin glowing in the dimly lit room, glowing with healthiness and readiness and birthing energy. I think about her beautiful husband, being such a loyal support person through it all. I think about her quiet contractions and how she breathed her baby into this world with deep strength and inner confidence and fearlessness which I wish all women out there could have when giving birth. Melissa is an inspiration, and I hope that her story inspires you on your journey, whatever that journey may be.
Also: Life is a precious thing. Hug your beloved. Tell them you love them. Don't fret over the mundane. Accept others with openness and be kind to one another.
We have lots of resources for birth professionals, from presets to contracts, in the Birth Becomes Her store.