I’m a midwife and mummy of three. I’ve delivered hundreds of babies in different countries and cultures around the world, from Africa to Australia. Birth is both my profession and passion, therefore making the right choice for my own family about where I would birth our fourth baby was extremely important.
One month ago I delivered my fourth baby, a beautiful daughter, at the Women’s Healthcare Associates (WHA) Midwifery Birth Center in Portland. It was such an incredibly positive and joyful experience, I felt compelled to share my birthing story. (All pictures captured by Portland birth photographer Jeanette Lee)
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 a grimace indicating the intensity of my contractions, to the look of love in my husband, Jonathan’s eyes as he held me. The curiosity on my two-year-old, Indi’s face as the baby’s head was crowning, and the sparkle in her deep blue eyes as my daughter, Isla, declared to the room ‘it’s a girl, mummy!’ My goodness, I get butterflies just thinking about it.
It was a beautiful sunshine-filled Saturday morning, maple syrup drenched pancakes were devoured by all. Signs of early labour commenced, and after my second mug of raspberry leaf tea I called the birth center. The midwife agreed we should start making our way in, much to Jonathan’s relief, as my three previous births had been quick, (number two had nearly come in the back of a New Delhi taxi!).
As a midwife, I know women have the best outcomes in birth when they can be in an environment that feels good to them, surrounded by the people of their choosing, and supported by medical practitioners who are familiar to them. Our last birth was a water birth in our home in Toronto, but our current rental home in Portland just didn’t feel right for a home birth. I did not want to deliver in a hospital, so, after a lot of research, my husband and I chose the new WHA Midwifery Birth Center in Portland.
I loved the light-filled rooms and large soaking tub, plus the kitchen area accessible to families. I knew all five of us would enjoy the space during labour. I had met all the birthing centre midwives. Michelle, an experienced midwife and mum of five, was on-call that Saturday, alongside three other team members. She offered a calm and reassuring presence throughout the day and we made decisions together. At the Midwifery Birth Center you receive all your prenatal care in the room you would like to birth in, so the space felt very familiar and relaxing.
On arrival at the birth center, Michelle examined 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. Knowing we were just minutes away was reassuring. This served to keep the kids occupied, and staying mobile aided the decent of my baby’s head and the progress of labour.
Labouring with children around is not for everyone. It was anything but quiet. We all got in the birth center pool together where they crouched with me. When my legs became weary we all moved to the bed where I eventually birthed. My daughter Isla was captivated by the labour. She hugged and kissed me through contractions, and sat on my knee as I bounced on the birthing ball.
As with all my previous labours, the contractions remained very mild and irregular. After several hours, I requested Michelle break my water, after which I quickly transitioned to feeling urges to push. I could hear Isla cheering, ‘Just one more push, Mummy!’ and ‘Baby has lots of hair, Mummy!’ I placed my hand on baby’s head as it crowned and then reached down to catch it and bring it onto my chest when Isla said the words, ‘It’s a girl!”
Fourth time around labour is no less intense or painful, but it’s just as magical. Our beautiful daughter, Wren, was born at 5.40 p.m., entering the room crying. A strong, spirited beauty, covered in a thick coat of vernix. Each of our kiddies experienced very different emotional reactions in the first few minutes following Wren’s birth; a mix of shear joy, exuberance, and feeling overwhelmed.
For women who are experiencing a low-risk pregnancy, but do not feel confident or able to birth at home, the WHA is an amazing birth center option. A wonderful relaxed and homely environment, where each family receives a continuity of care from a small team of experienced midwives.
For more amazing photos and further images of the WHA Birthing Center, visit Jeanette Lee’s photo collection of baby Wren’s arrival at jeanetteleephoto.com.
Sam Jennings is a mummy of four, wife, midwife, and author of Little Green Lives, a family lifestyle blog. She and her family arrived in Portland just three months ago from Toronto, Canada. Much of the last ten years they spent working with Doctors Without Borders and traveling the world. They are now ready to put down roots in Portland, and about to embark on a homestead life just outside the city. Sam’s blog focuses on their journey to lead a greener, more minimalist lifestyle, living closer to the land, and become more sustainable.