Surprise Home-birth: Baby Carter arrives in a hurry
Amanda Lewis never intended to have a homebirth.
“No way!” she would tell people who assumed that, because she was using a midwife, she would be having her baby at her Moricetown home. “We’re going to the hospital.”
But sometimes the universe has different plans.
It was late November and Amanda, 27, was due to give birth in just over a week. In the meantime, the busy mother of three was trying to wrap up a course in Carrier language teacher training, which took her to Burns Lake where she would stay with family two days every week.
“The night before, we were at our class and everybody was like, ‘it’s getting close!’” she remembers. Her 18 classmates—all of them women and with families of their own—were sure that the stiffness in her belly was a sign that the baby could come any time. “I was just counting my lucky stars that it would be OK.”
That night Amanda tossed and turned, constantly re-adjusting to get comfortable. She awoke relieved that the baby had chosen not to arrive during the night. That’s also when the contractions started. But first she had things to do.
At 9 a.m. she went to class, one of the last before the holidays. Late morning, she quietly approached the friend she had travelled with from Smithers and suggested they do a little homework, have lunch and then head back early.
“The whole morning I had been feeling contractions. They were pretty regular,” she says. “But me being stubborn, I wanted to get my classes done.”
By the time she’d run some errands, picked up diapers and waited for her classmates to finish putting together a pool to bet on the baby’s arrival date (little did they know), she arrived back in Smithers at 4:30 p.m. to meet with midwife Bobbie Adkins. During their 10-minute conversation, she had three contractions.
“I was feeling OK. I could walk and the contractions weren’t too bad,” she says.
When she got home about 5 p.m., her husband Russ was making dinner for the kids in preparation for Amanda’s father arriving to look after the kids while they headed to the hospital in Smithers.
“As soon as I got home, my contractions got more intense,” she recalls. She paced as her four-year-old twin girls, Emma-Reese and Dorothea, asked questions.
Then came another contraction, “probably the most intense one yet,” and her water broke like a water balloon squeezed in a tight grip. It was now 5:20 and the contractions started coming continuously.
“I was trying to keep myself calm because I had everybody here, so I can’t be freaking out. It wasn’t really an option.” With one more hard contraction, she felt the baby move. “The first thing I thought when I felt everything move down was, ‘I can’t have my baby here.’”
Standing in her bedroom, she felt her body begin to push involuntarily. The twins ran to get Russ. She could feel the baby’s head crowning as Russ entered the room, quickly piling whatever he could find around her as she sank to the floor.
“As he’s helping me to the floor, Carter’s coming out. At the same time as the baby’s knees hit the floor, I hit the floor,” Amanda says. “It was as intense as it could have been. It was like survival mode.”
Weighing six pounds, three ounces, Carter Lewis arrived at 5:35 p.m. on Nov. 25. Right away, Amanda heard him cry and knew her baby was OK.
“Russ looks at me, he says, ‘Wow! Wow!’ And what did I say?” she asks, looking at Russ: “‘Of course this would happen!’”
During her story, Russ has arrived home with three-year-old Xavier, who toddles over in a crooked Party Animal ball-cap and presents me with his toy transport truck.
“The kids were all pretty aware of what was going on,” Russ says about their children, whom he sent into the living room to watch cartoons as the baby was born. After Carter arrived, Russ returned to the kitchen to finish making dinner.
“I did burn the carrots,” he remembers.
Perhaps Russ’s calm isn’t surprising: “In the old days, my great auntie and my grandfather’s families, because the hospitals weren’t around, they would birth all the babies in the area,” he says.
His grandmother, Emma-Michelle Lewis, was once invited to Ottawa to speak at a midwifery workshop about home birthing in Moricetown, says Russ’s mother Lillian Lewis. Lillian was the only one of her siblings that wasn’t born at home: she also arrived quickly, just as the family was driving through Smithers, and was born at the hospital.
It’s been 39 years since a baby was last born in Moricetown, she says.
“Little did I know it was going to be my grandbaby that was next,” says the proud grandma, who sings Wet’suwet’en songs to her grandchildren. “I’m still bubbly inside when I talk about my Baby Carter.”
Today, Moricetown’s only emergency help comes from the volunteer fire department or via ambulance from Smithers. As a volunteer fire-fighter, Russ’s recent experience is an asset: twice since his son’s birth he’s been called to wait with labouring mothers until the ambulance arrives to take them to hospital.
After Carter was born, Russ called the midwife, who ventured from Smithers to Moricetown on treacherous winter roads. When she arrived a half-hour after Carter’s birth, the baby was already breastfeeding—umbilical cord still intact—and she and Russ helped Amanda into bed.
Bobbie Adkins has been a registered midwife for four years, practising in the Bow Valley for three. She has been to about 450 births.
“Amanda and Russ are the only clients I’ve had where I haven’t made it to their birth,” she says, adding that speedy arrivals are more common after the first child.
“When babies come early, they’re usually OK,” she says. “Ninety-five percent of births are just fine, but there’s always a chance that the baby could be not breathing properly or the mom could be hemorrhaging.”
Adkins provides clients with an instruction sheet of what to do in case of emergencies.
“If the baby’s coming that quickly, just be there, catch the baby, put the baby skin-to-skin with the mom and call for help.”
The children, likewise, took their brother’s homebirth in stride. Amanda remembers Emma-Reese entering the bedroom and seeing the placenta: “Gross! I don’t want to get that on me,” the four-year-old said before returning to the kitchen to finish her dinner.
For Amanda, life continued as usual. In December she did her practicum in a daycare where she could bring Carter to work with her, and after Christmas returned to classes in Burns Lake, where Russ, on parental leave, came along and brought the whole family.
With wide eyes and a calm demeanor, seven-month-old Carter, despite his rushed entry into the world, is one of the most relaxed babies I’ve ever met.
“Everything turned out really good. If our babysitter had shown up earlier, we would have been halfway to Smithers in the car,” she says. “God had his hand in everything. There were so many things that could have gone wrong, but none of them did.”