Thinking & Feeling

“The world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think.” Horace Walpole

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Benjamin's Birth Story - by Andrew

This is the story of Benjamin's birth as told to him by his daddy.

April 25, 2018
Welcome to earth, Benjamin Bodhi Achilles Canter.  You were born at home, in our bath tub, at 12:49pm on Tuesday, April 24, 2018.  You were 4.25 kilograms (9 lb 6oz), 54cm long, and your head circumference was 34 cm.  Jane went into labour very early in the morning (about 4am?), and gradually built up to having you.  I woke up about 8am, and was immediately conscious that Jane’s  mood had shifted… she’d visibly started going “into herself”, and was peaceful and focused.  She was finding my presence distracting, so I left the room to allow her to find her peace and vibe.  Things got more intense later in the morning, and she had me alert Ruth at about 10:20, and also Samantha (your photographer).  So you can see the timeline, here are the whatsapp messages…

Andrew & Ruth:
[10:21, 4/24/2018] Andrew: Hi Ruth. It’s Andrew. Are you there?
[10:21, 4/24/2018] Ruth: Hi Andrew. Yes
[10:22, 4/24/2018] Andrew: It’s baby time. Come when u can.
[10:23, 4/24/2018] Andrew: She says “more intense” and she’s running the tub....
[10:23, 4/24/2018] Ruth: Cool. Will get my things together and head through. About half an hour away
[10:24, 4/24/2018] Andrew: Good. Thanks.
[10:56, 4/24/2018] Andrew: All quiet. No stress.
[11:19, 4/24/2018] Ruth: I'm outside
[11:19, 4/24/2018] Andrew: Coming
[12:15, 4/24/2018] Andrew: Please come in [to the room]

Andrew & Samantha:
[10:22, 4/24/2018] Andrew: Hi Sam. It’s Andrew. Are u there.
[10:22, 4/24/2018] Samantha: Yes 
[10:23, 4/24/2018] Andrew: It’s baby time.
[10:23, 4/24/2018] Andrew: I can’t estimate but contractions are more intense and she’s started running the bath.
[10:24, 4/24/2018] Samantha: Wow that’s great!
[10:24, 4/24/2018] Andrew: Come when u can.
[10:24, 4/24/2018] Andrew: This isn’t going to be a long drawn out labor.
[10:25, 4/24/2018] Samantha: Let me make a few phone calls quick and I’ll be in touch ASAP ๐Ÿผ
[10:42, 4/24/2018] Samantha: Babysitter on their way. ๐Ÿผ About 30 minutes away from me. Once she’s here. I can come straight away. I will let you know I’m leaving From Tokai. 
[11:16, 4/24/2018] Samantha: Ok, leaving Tokai now. 
[11:19, 4/24/2018] Andrew: All calm. Thanks
[11:47, 4/24/2018] Andrew: Hi. When u arrive just message me and I’ll come down. Doorbell is too buzzy
[12:03, 4/24/2018] Samantha: Hi. I’m here x

When Ruth arrived she had all her medical kit – in case of some needed intervention – but she was firm that it not be in the bedroom, and rather she laid out all her equipment in the hall (presumably since merely seeing all that stuff can create fear – e.g. “what’s all THAT for!?”). 

Ruth settled herself in the guest bedroom, expecting that if she was needed that she would hear: I told her that there were two concrete walls between us, and she wouldn’t hear anything!  It was pretty clear to me that Jane wanted Ruth in attendance for the birth, so as Jane’s contractions got more intense – about ½ hour before your birth – I messaged Ruth to come into the bedroom.

For Jane’s last 30 minutes of labor we all – me, Ruth, Samantha -- just peacefully attended to Jane as she had increasingly intense contractions – and increasingly vocal, allowing herself to express herself (not verbally, but with moaning)…  she ran some more hot water… and she moved around the tub to find comfortable positions.  Ruth was quiet, attentive and meditative … which helped us all stay calm… while I sat by the side of the tub – also trying to be meditative – and Samantha was “catlike” in taking photos.  Perhaps as Jane approached the final contractions we all became much more alert/attentive and that might have disrupted the flow – but Jane was deep enough into her process that she was oblivious to us.  In the course of a contraction I realised Jane had your head in her hand.. you were being born!... and within moments you slipped out of her into the water.   She did it herself, easing you out… and lifting you up out of the water.  You were born “en caul” meaning your amniotic sac never broke (i.e. Jane’s waters didn’t break):  When your head was out of the water, Jane pulled the sac away from your head, and lifted you out.  

While you came out very grey and squashed, within moments you came to life and shortly after started squawking: I had no moment of fear or uncertainty, as you were almost immediately alert and visibly alive.   Jane has told me before that giving birth is intensely painful, but that no damage is being done… as nearly immediately after giving birth the pain ceases: That was evident yesterday as well.  You sat on Jane for about 30 minutes, still attached by the umbilical cord.  Ruth observed everything, and later reported your APGAR scores as 8 and 9 – out of 10 – indicating you were alert, responsive, strong, and healthy.  You even opened your eyes and chirped.  Clearly, you were ready to be born!  After a while, and when Jane was ready, Ruth clamped and tied the cord, and I cut it with her scissors.  Then, while Jane birthed (the large, heart-shaped, placenta) you and I lay in bed—you on my chest – and got connected.  We all lolled around in bed for a couple of hours… with Ruth checking in occasionally, Samantha coming and going for some photos… but mostly they all left us alone with you to get acquainted.  

Caitlyn, another midwife who works with Ruth, arrived shortly after you were born – but never came upstairs -- and was doing a thorough inspection of the placenta (to ensure its completeness, and do blood tests on the cord blood) in the kitchen: I came down to make tea, and took the opportunity to photograph it: Quite an organ!!  Now it’s in an ice cream tub, in the freezer, neatly labelled (“Benjamin’s Placenta” so as to avoid confusion with the other chocolate ice cream).   

The whole team had left by about 15:30, leaving us alone with you to get acquainted. 

In short, you were born perfectly… and you are perfect.


Thursday, 26 April 2018

The birth of Benjamin Bodhi Achilles

TMI Notice. This is a birth story, with images of birth. Read at your own discretion and only if you are comfortable with descriptions and images of birth.

All photos, after the first 2 & 4th (which were taken by Andrew), by Sam of Twinkle Star Photography

This pregnancy was much harder on me than the previous ones. In all aspects. Physically, mentally, emotionally... I felt sick and tired for most of it. There was more fear and uncertainty. I wasn't sure I could trust myself to know what to do. Natey's death shook the very core of my confidence and feeling of competence. I also had a failure of faith. I usually feel complete trust and faith that all will be well and that I, and my body knows what it is doing. This time nothing was certain. Added to that were the extra fears, risks and unknowns related to being so much older (43 turning 44 next week!). 

There were just no guarantees. And so I was more cautious, more quiet, more internalised, and less active physically and socially. We didn't share the news of my pregnancy openly outside of our immediate circle until the 3rd trimester. I stayed focused on work and my studies for the most part and didn't have energy for much else. Most days I'd return from work too tired and feeling too ill to do much more than eat and go to bed. 

So it wasn't the most enjoyable pregnancy at all. But thankfully as it progressed all indications were that all the important things (like the baby's health and development) were well and there were no issues.

As I allowed myself to think about and visualise the birth I realised I wanted a similar experience to Natey's birth. I didn't want fear and lack of self confidence to undermine what I knew could and should be another wonderful and natural experience. The thought of a standard hospital and medically managed birth just holds no appeal to me at all. I have come to know, and believe, that it can (and should) be so much better and so much more than that. I knew I wanted to set-up for a similar birth. But at the same time I wanted to be a bit more cautious. And that meant making sure I wasn't alone this time.

Natey was born unexpectedly as an unassisted birth. Meaning I birthed him myself - because the midwife did not arrive on time. It was an incredible experience which is forever etched into my heart and memories. But he came out unresponsive at first and there was a tense moment before he 'woke up' while I was stimulating him and on the verge of wondering if he needed resuscitation. He soon did respond and all was well. But I was not so lucky when I ended up alone with him at the end of his life, and the job and responsibility of resuscitation fell on me, and I failed. I was sure I didn't want to be in the situation of being solely responsible should any resuscitation be needed... So I found a midwife (the wonderful Ruth Ehrhardt of True Midwifery) to support us, and also a back-up gynae and hospital in case that would be needed.

Anyway, the pregnancy progressed as they do. I worked up to 38.5 weeks and then went off on maternity leave on 6 April.

I spent the first week 'off' taking care of a dozen admin tasks, and basically getting life in order. The second week was spent at the gym each morning walking on the treadmill, and resting in the afternoons. It was a nice change of pace to be both more physically active again and also more relaxed, and less busy and in my head.

I had my 40-week check up and all was looking good. But there was no sign of labour any time soon. So both my midwife, Ruth, and I thought she'd see me at my 41-week appointment and beyond... 

I'd tried feeling my cervix a couple of times in the previous 10-days or so and couldn't even find it. So I thought it was probably still high and closed. I wasn't expecting any action till closer to the week-end at least. But I woke up at 3:40 on Tues early morning (40w6d), to pee as usual, and had some bloody mucous. I went back to bed with a towel. Noticing mild contractions coming every 10 mins, but I was comfortable and able to doze so I dozed between them until 06:30.

I then got up and got the boys an Uber to school instead of taking them, telling them I thought it was possibly labour day. Being up and active the contractions were coming every 3-4 mins, but still pretty mild. I could still move around through them. I had a few cups of red raspberry leaf and nettle tea. And I let Ruth know that things seemed to be slowly starting, while wandering around downstairs and checking emails etc.

After 8am I went up to the bedroom to take Andrew coffee. I did some organising and bounced on yoga ball a bit. Contractions spaced out a bit again and felt less intense with Andrew walking and talking around me. I definitely like to be by myself in labour. He realised this and went downstairs for a while. And after a while contractions came on more regularly again. I put on some Cafe Del Mar music and just hung out in the bedroom area drinking tea. 
At about 10am we called Ruth to come. As I could feel things getting more intense, I was feeling nauseous at times, and she was a good hour's travel away.

At close to 11am I decided to get in the bath. At that point I had no idea if it was going to be 30 mins, 3 hours or 3 days still. It's so hard to know! But I'd been anticipating being able to sit in a bath of water - this is no longer something we can do in Cape Town's dire drought, and I'd literally spent months washing in about 2l of water to 'save my rations' for being able to birth in water. I added some essential oils to the water (Lavender, Clary Sage, Neroli & Ylang Ylang). Once in the bath I tried an internal and could feel his head, but thought I was feeling it through my vaginal wall. I thought my cervix was still only 3-4cm at that point, but I wasn't sure, as it was not clear what exactly I was feeling. It was all still quite bearable though. Although I was starting to 'go inside' to cope during contractions.
Around 11:30 my midwife arrived. She did one Doppler heart-rate check and then left the room to give me privacy to do my thing again. Andrew mostly stayed with me, quietly, after that.

Our photographer friend Sam arrived. She was meant to just be there post-birth to do some fresh newborn shots. Andrew asked if she could come in. I didn't really care at that point. I opened my eyes as she came in, but after that it was like she wasn't there. She melted into the background and I was right within myself anyway... I mostly kept my eyes closed and was doing my own thing. Deep breathing and blowing through each contraction.
Andrew called Ruth to come back in at about 12:15. As I was clearly dealing with much more intense labour then. I started feeling pressure too. Ruth sat quitely crouched down near the bath and didn't say a word or even look directly at me. She believes that labour should be undisturbed and most unobserved. She is quite incredible. She is very empowering in a very humble and non-ego way.
It must have been around 12:30 when I started grunting and pushing a bit. It was pretty intense with a lot of pressure. I wasn't all that sure what was going on. There wasn't a clear change from normal contractions to definite pushing at first. I actually thought I just needed to pee... I was doing my own internals every few contractions and noticed his head moving down with each contraction. So yep, pushing it was then so I focused more deliberately on bearing down.
When it was clear birth was imminent the Ruth came closer but still just watched silently as I did my thing. I was moving around in the bath as felt right at the time. She never commented.

Then the head started crowning around my hands which I used as counter-pressure support - holy heck the membranes were still in tact so his head had a whole 'water balloon' around it. I was panting, blowing and pushing trying to control his exit so as not to tear. It's hard to hold back, but I knew if I didn't I'd tear. I think I was quite vocal then.

Once his head had eased out. I waited while I felt him twist ready for his shoulders to come. I could feel his whole head and ears etc inside the 'balloon'. Once he had moved to free his shoulder I pushed hard and watched his whole body slide out. All still inside his sac! 
As I lifted him up the sac opened and stripped off and stayed with the placenta while I pulled him free and up onto me at 12:49.
After 20 mins or so of chilling in the bath rubbing him and watching him wake up, breathe and get pink. 
I asked the Ruth to cut the cord, which Andrew did. Andrew and baby went to do skin on skin on the bed, while I stayed in the bath. Ruth said to do the placenta as and when I wanted. I ended up tugging the cord a bit and felt it moving down, so she said it was fine to pull cord if I wanted to. So I did while bearing down and pushed that giant sucker out. It felt like another baby it was pretty big! 
After that I got out the bath and went to the bed. Ruth left the room for a good hour to give us space while she wrote up notes and checked the placenta (which was heart shaped!). etc.
After she came back we measured and weighed him. 4.25kgs/9lbs6. 54 cm long and 34cm head circumference, and did the newborn health and reflex checks. All very respectfully and calmingly. Baby had no squashed head or face at all - the benefit of the sac and waters I think...
 Apart from it being intense at the end (which is part of the deal after all) and feeling a bit stingy (no tears but a very slight skid mark) now. It was a pretty perfect birth!

Welcome home little Benjamin.

Thanks to:
- Andrew for his constant love and support. And for again being calm and quiet and trusting me with this very important and significant job.
- Ruth for being the perfect midwife. She is quiet, respectful, reverent,  and completely trusting and supportive of physiological birth. She feels no need or reason to direct or cheer-lead at all. But just quietly be present, in case she is needed. It is so empowering being 'allowed' to fully trust your instincts and do birth the way nature intended.
- Sam for being so quiet, respectful and unobtrusive and yet being able to so beautifully and poignantly catch all these very precious moments. They are so fleeting and with the enormity and sometimes overwhelmingness of the actual moment it's hard to remember the details afterwards. Having the memories captured is invaluable.
- Our on stand-by Ob/Gyn Dr Catherine Elliot. For being supportive, practical, and trusting us. That we knew what we were doing, to be sensible, and so being willing to be an emergency back-up in the event that we needed to transfer to hospital. Not many doctors are prepared to support a home birth.
- For all our friends and family who have stood by us and carried us through the past 16 months through devastating tragedy, grief, mourning, and through to new hope. We couldn't have done it without all of the love and support from you all.
- And finally to dear darling Natey. Who is ever present in our minds and hearts and will never be forgotten. We still don't know or understand why his time with us was so short, but because of that Benjamin is here now. For that we are thankful. Thanks for all you were and all you taught us Natey. We love and miss you eternally.

Benjamin's Maternity Shoot

We did an informal maternity photo-shoot with one of Andrew's friends at around 34-35 weeks.

Pregnancy Progression Photos - Benjamin

These are the photos I took during Benjamin's pregnancy to document the journey...

Introducing Benjamin Bodhi Achilles Canter

Birth Announcement scribed by Andrew Canter
Photos by Samantha Squire-Howe of Twinkle Star Photography
Dear Family and Friends
Jane and I are excited to announce the arrival of Benjamin Bodhi Achilles Canter, born at 12:49pm on Tuesday, April 24, 2018.
Jane has built this lucky boy conscientiously and carefully, and brought him into the world via a perfect, peaceful, water birth at home.
She has, again, given me a son – and I will be forever grateful and appreciative.
Etymology of his name:
Benjamin was the youngest son of Jacob, and the progenitor of 12th tribe of Israel. The name translates as “Son of the my right hand”, “Son of the south” (an allusion to his birth in Cape Town) or “Son of my old age” (an allusion to… well you figure it out).
With this name, we link our son to nearly 6000 years of lineage to the heritage and cultural values of Judaism: Community, family, ethics, perseverance, debate, learning & education, and food.
Bodhi is a Sanskrit name translated as "enlightenment" or "awakening". It is synonymous with the state of nirvana -- being freed from hate, greed and ego. The historical Buddha achieved his enlightenment as he meditated under a bodhi tree (ficus religiosa). Compassion is foundational to happiness, and we hope the name Bodhi inspires our son to be compassionate: During the past 16 months Jane and I have found compassion – whether given to us, or given by us – to be a great source of coping and healing.
With this name, we connect our son to the quest for personal peace, enlightenment, wisdom, and teaching -- and we bequeath him much of eastern philosophy, great places to experience, as well as his own tree species.
Achilles was, of course, the great Greek warrior and hero of the Trojan War. Strong, able, righteous, and decisive: A leader, but hot-headed and possibly heedless of risk. Nearly invulnerable, Achilles’ (like all heroes) had a notable weakness -- his heel. Whatever authority our son achieves in life we hope he will be reminded that no one is beyond reproach or failure – and that knowledge of one’s own flaws is critical to sustained success and happiness.
With this name, we connect our son to the strength, competence, and leadership of a great warrior – and we bequeath him all of Greek history and philosophy, the precursor of western civilisation.
Taken together, the name has balance: The Tribe of Benjamin was warlike – ultimately unwisely fomenting a civil war (with the other Israelite tribes) that largely led to its own dissolution. Likewise, Achilles in his arrogance was killed by his own vulnerability. Bodhi is the antithesis of Achilles – but both attributes (ego and absence-of-ego) are necessary to function in the world.
There are times in life for decisive, righteous battle… and times for inner reflection and the release of worldly concerns: But much of life seems occupied by the balance of the wise use of authority, the consciousness of one’s own motives and flaws, and in the judging of which attributes to apply, in what measure, and in which circumstances.
In sum, we hope his name serves our son as a reminder to be conscious of the need for wise balance in all aspects of his life.