It is a convention of the mommy blog to detail your birth story, particularly if it was of the “natural” variety. I’m about to do so now, but with a bit of trepidation, as although I did succeed in my goal to have a natural birth, many other aspects of the big day didn’t go exactly as planned. In fact, rather than the empowering experience that childbirth can be for many women, the birth of my son was entirely traumatic and while the end result makes me happier than I ever imagined I could be, that day, and the early days after were not the greatest of my life.
So with apologies to any readers who are squeamish (and I’d suggest you just turn away from this particular post now), here it is:
I had an easy pregnancy, with care provided by wonderful midwives who shared my philosophy of natural childbirth as an ideal. My husband is a little more conventional when it comes to medical intervention and birth, and he and I had MUCH debate around my desire to have a home birth. Even though he had read all the literature supporting the positive outcomes of home birth, he was concerned by one factor: midwives can’t intubate, and 1% of babies require intubation. The numbers didn’t impress me, but ultimately I conceded to my husband’s desire to give birth in hospital, attended by my midwives, having decided that his comfort was also important to the experience (with the understanding that baby number 2 would be at home!)
We prepared for the labor with classes led by a doula who had a real passion for the sensual quality of birth, describing the experience as a meandering trip down a river, ultimately climaxing with waterfalls that lead to a peaceful paddle with baby in arms. I am already a canoe-tripper, so I could master this, no problem.
My due date was set for February 18th, and I was anxious, as most expectant mothers are, resorting to curb walking, bouncing on an exercise ball, drinking herbal teas, working at getting that baby to make an appearance. I couldn’t imagine waiting a whole 40 weeks to see my baby.
Luckily, my baby was also anxious to greet the world, and at 3 a.m. on February 15th, my water broke. Not in the dramatic, busted-water-balloon way of movies, but a tiny trickle of water releasing itself down my leg as I got up to go to the bathroom. I called my midwife to confirm that this was in fact something, and not just an embarrassing bladder issue, and she assured me that all signs pointed to it being my waters, and advised me to go to bed, and wait for the contractions to start.
Although it seemed unlikely that sleep would be possible, we did manage to go get some rest, but first Chris and I got up to perform a little ritual we had decided on early in my pregnancy. We had saved a bottle of wine from our wedding, and decided to open and savor one glass of red wine when we new it would be our last toast as a family of two (plus cat).
I was dismayed to wake up on the morning of the 15th with no contractions, not even a slight pain. Our midwives came to the house to make sure that my water was in fact broken, and their swab tests showed that it had but I was not even the slightest bit dilated – meaning that labor had not started. They explained that if I was not in labor by 8 p.m. that evening, I would have to be induced, as once the amniotic fluids have ruptured, there is the possibility of infection being introduced into the womb, the longer it takes before labor begins.
We called my parents to let them know that they should head into the city. My mum was going to be second assistant on the birth, as my husband is a tiny bit squeamish, and one way or another, the baby was coming that day. My inner pessimist was sure I’d end up at the hospital, pumping full of pitocin. Induction was the LAST thing I wanted to deal with, the furthest thing from the natural birth I envisioned. It seemed impossible that in only nine hours I’d get from no progress to active labor.
At 1 o’clock, as we waited for my parents to arrive, we decided to go for a long walk with our neighbors to try and get labor started. After about 15 minutes, I thought I might feel something. We stopped into a coffee shop and had lattes and tea biscuits, a most civilized way to commence labor, although probably a little unnerving for the other patrons (and our friends). But I wasn’t even sure that the feelings I was having were contractions, so we kept up our walk, heading home.
Now feeling a little discomfort, I thought it best that we rent a movie, surround ourselves with snacks, and camp out in the TV room awaiting progress. My parents arrived just as I had what I would describe as my first real contraction, painful, but bearable. But then – only 40 seconds later, another! .. and another! Timing the contractions that had really just begun, we found that they were only one minute apart. Now, we knew that it isn’t considered active labor until you are having contractions every 5 minutes, lasting one minute each, and in my slightly addled state I thought “So now we have to wait for them to spread back out to 5 minutes apart”.
Luckily, my family pointed out the absurdity of this theory and made me call the midwives, who wanted to talk to me through a contraction to see if I was really in labor. The first one on the phone wasn’t too bad, I could talk easily enough, and didn’t feel too overwhelmed. The second came within a minute, and took my voice and breath away. And the third, only another minute later, was so powerful that fluid poured forth and I felt a serious, intense pressure to PUSH! My midwife was clear “Get to the hospital, NOW!”
My body however, had other plans. While everyone else scrambled around grabbing bags, clothes, protection for the car seat, I lay on the bathroom floor thinking I was going to die and there was no way in hell I’d be doing it in a hospital! As my husband brought the car around, my mother literally dragged me to the front door, briefly depositing me on the floor to get through another contraction, and then carried me out to the car for what was the longest drive of my life (actual time: approx. 10 minutes).
The contractions were nothing like I expected. Certainly they were painful, although I had conceptualized them as waves traveling through my body and could easily hold to that vision. Unfortunately each wave brought with it absolute and complete certainty that I was dying. I settled into a panic that I can barely describe now without feeling short of breath. I wish I could say that I was focused on bring my baby into the world, but honestly, I think I actually physically forgot what the purpose of the experience was, because all I was sure of was that I couldn’t possibly survive this.
Now, before I go on, in case anyone who reads this is facing labor soon, I should add some perspective on what was going on here, so that you don’t just opt out of giving birth all together. The stage of labor called “transition” is generally agreed to be the worst. This is the time when your cervix does it’s final bit of dilation to prepare for the actual birth, usually the 7-10 cm mark. For most women this follows hours of contractions and dilation leading up to it, which is also painful, but doesn’t cause the panic sensation that transition is known for. In my case, it seems like what happened is I went directly from not being in labor, to being in transition. When we got to the hospital, only 1 hour after my labor started, I was more than 7 cm dilated. My body seems to be extremely efficient where birthing is concerned. This probably won’t happen to you.
Arriving in the birthing room, any pretense of modesty I might have thought I would keep up went straight out the window. I dove out of the wheelchair my husband had put me in and stripped completely naked – my clothes were strangling me!
From here forward, things are largely a blur. I remember being forced onto the bed, even though I thought I wanted to move around for labor. I remember my mother rubbing my feet and my husband rubbing my back. I remember thinking of nothing but the sweet relief that death was going to bring shortly. And then I remember the panic spreading to the rest of the room.
At some point as my water was breaking (good to know for the future: this happens over and over again), a few people spotted dark fluid in with the clear stuff. This meant that my baby had passed meconium into the waters, basically, he had pooped before being born. This is a dangerous situation, because if that meconuim is breathed into the baby’s lungs it can cause a very serious infection, causing the baby to become septic. To avoid this, the baby much be kept from taking a breath on its own through intubation. That’s right, we WERE the 1% of births that don’t fair well at home. How do you like that luck?
The birthing room filled with people, and from my vantage point, became absolute chaos. An OB, nurses and a team of respiratory therapists were added to 2 midwives, mum and Chris, already in attendance. In my panicked state I had no real idea what was going on, I was completely inside my own head and body, and couldn’t seem to connect outside of it, but I was able to catch little bits of information, and unfortunately also heard “heart rate not coming back up”.
On top of passing meconium, my baby’s heart rate was dropping, and not recovering, with each contraction. This meant he had to come out, and fast! Luckily, my efficient body had already gotten me to full dilation, in only three hours, and I was able to start to push. Of course, unluckily, baby had also turned himself upside down, meaning that his head was jamming against my tailbone, making pushing very inefficient. The OB explained that they’d have to use a vacuum to deliver the baby. A small vacuum (adorably called the “kiwi”) was attached to his head, and with screams and cries from me, my baby was partially delivered to the world.
The OB told me to stop pushing, and was suddenly very serious, concentrating his attention and hands around the baby’s head. I asked what was going on, and he cleverly said “I’m just cutting the cord”. I have to pause here in the story to say that this OB, who’s name I’ve never actually learned was the most calm, gentle and serene presence in that room. His wording was clever because it was true – he was cutting the cord, but it was also deceptive, as it didn’t alert me to what was really happening. The cord would not usually be cut at this point, but it had gotten knotted around my baby’s neck, and was the reason his heart rate was not recovering, each contraction was effectively strangling him. If the OB had told me that, I would have freaked out, but the limited information he gave me made me feel like this was standard procedure, until I gave it some thought.
Once the cord was cut, one more push with the help of the vacuum brought Oliver into the world. He was immediately whisked away by the respiratory therapists, who put him on a table to my left where I watched him have a tube put down his throat. My mother and Chris both stood on my right side, tears in their eyes, and panic in their voices as I sobbed “What’s wrong with him? What’s wrong” their reassurance was completely ineffective, as the RTs began chest compressions in front of me. I looked at my husband and saw the face of a bereaved father, I thought, I will not leave this hospital, I am lost.
After an eternity moving in slow motion, Oliver was whisked out of the room. I am sure that someone told me that he was OK at this point, but it couldn’t have resonated with me. Chris followed the crowd of people who took my baby away, and I was left completely empty, desperate to hold my child. As a distraction, the midwife and OB began to stitch me up, a 45 minute task, as I had a fourth degree tear (look it up if you dare). As this went on, Chris, my dad and my mum ran back and forth between me and Oliver, bringing pictures on cell phones and reassurance that things were looking up. Oliver was breathing, pink and alert!
An hour after he was born, I was finally allowed to go to see Oliver in the NICU. The poor little guy had a tube down his throat, to pull out any meconium, and an IV in his arm to run antibiotics as a precaution in case any had made it into his lungs. He was tiny, only 5 pounds 9 ounces, but strong and aware right from the moment he was born. Although I didn’t get to see it, my dad told me that when they put him on the scale to weigh him, little Ollie grabbed onto the side of the scale and pulled himself towards it – trying to make his way closer to mama!
I didn’t get to hold Oliver until four hours after he was born – 9 p.m., but I felt his presence holding to me and me to him from the moment he came into the world. He was healthier than the doctors expected and we were able to start breastfeeding right away, and within 24 hours he was discharged from the NICU and got to join me in my room, where I didn’t put him down until we got to leave altogether after three days, with an all clear for any complications as a result of the birth.
Oliver has brought me so much joy since the moment he was born, but a healthy dose of terror as well, and it took a while for that edge to dissipate. For weeks after his birth I was convinced that his presence in my life was temporary, that he’d cheated fate by making it through the trauma of his birth. But as he gained and gained and gained weight (doubling his birth weight by two months!), and revealed himself to be bright, alert and vital, I began to have faith that he would be OK. Four months later, he is the light of my life, and a strong, healthy and chubby baby. The only concern I have for him now is that he is growing too fast. Having begun our journey together as mother and child separated, I savor every minute I spend with him… even the night feedings, and am so excited to be right here with him as he makes his way in the world!