On Thursday, October 26, I woke up in my hospital bed with mild cramping. As the day went on, the “cramps” became more intense, and by late afternoon, I noticed they were coming fairly regularly. I started timing them, and they were coming about 7 minutes apart, lasting 45 seconds to a minute. Early labour! — or so I thought…
Soon, they were coming every 6 minutes, then every 5. I called my doula that evening, and my nurse took me down to one of the labour and delivery rooms.
After my doula arrived, the contractions continued to increase in intensity and frequency. They were coming every 3-4 minutes now, and I found myself needing to really focus and breathe through them. I could feel it a lot in my back, so my doula was applying counter pressure to my back during contractions. In between waves, we chatted like normal.
Around midnight, I took a hot shower. The water felt soothing, and I stayed in there riding out the waves, focusing on the warmth and wishing there was a bath tub I could lie down in.
After my shower, my contractions slowed, and eventually stopped, much to the surprise of my doula and the nurses. I was sent back to my room that morning and felt normal, except there was a lot of pressure in my pelvic region and it was difficult to pee.
Fast forward to the morning of Saturday, October 28: the OB on duty, Dr. Caulley, came to check in on me. I told him about my difficulty peeing, and the discomfort I was feeling in my pelvis. He said it was normal and that the baby’s head was likely engaged. The cramping had started up again, but I didn’t bother mentioning it to him, since it didn’t feel any different than my “false labour” on Thursday night.
As the day went on, the cramping worsened. Damn, I thought to myself. If you can’t even handle this false labour cramping, how are you going to handle REAL contractions?
So, I meditated and put on my hypnobirthing relaxation CDs to try and find some relief. It was getting harder and harder to stay relaxed.
By the time my mom came to visit me that afternoon, I was struggling. I couldn’t get comfortable in any position, and peeing was next to impossible. (It is SO unsatisfying to sit on the toilet when your bladder feels full and hear nothing but a trickle in the toilet!) “I think you better tell a nurse,” she suggested.
I buzzed, and my nurse joked that if I was going to “misbehave”, I had to do it down in Labour and Delivery. So she wheeled me down there, and one of my favourite nurses, Jocelyn, got me hooked up to the monitors for a Non Stress Test to check on the baby.
“When was the last time someone checked your cervix?” she asked me.
It had been the day I was admitted to the hospital. Since my water had broken early, they hadn’t been checking it for fear of introducing bacteria.
Jocelyn decided to check me. She did it twice, “just to be sure”.
“You’re not going to believe me if I tell you this,” she said.
“What?” I asked, expecting to hear that I was still only 2-3 cm dilated, like I was the day my water broke.
“You’re 9 cm dilated,” she responded.
We stared at each other for a minute, stunned. How was this possible that I’d reached almost full dilation without even realizing I was in labour?
“Look how strong you are,” she said to me.
The whole time, I’d been thinking the exact opposite. Those words stayed with me for the rest of my labour and delivery.
“You’re going to be pushing soon,” she told me, and she hurried around, prepping the room and calling other doctors and nurses.
Still in shock, I called my doula to tell her the news.
“I’ll be there in 30 minutes,” she said, and I could hear her rushing to pack her bags in the background.
Shortly after, my contractions reached a whole new level. I was lying on my left side, gripping the bed rails, breathing deeply and groaning, trying to remember Ina May Gaskin’s advice to keep my jaw soft and my muscles as relaxed as possible. My doula arrived and started applying counter pressure, but at this point, it wasn’t helping me and I didn’t want anyone touching me. I started to feel nauseous, and Jocelyn arrived with a little bowl just in time to avoid a pukey mess on the floor.
The OB came in and started trying to talk to me about some things in my birth plan, but at that point, I was in a whole different world. All I could focus on was getting through the contractions, each one more intense than the last. Suddenly, I felt my body move the baby’s head into the birth canal, and I knew it was time to start pushing.
I wanted to be on all fours to work with gravity, but the OBs and nurses weren’t having it. I was forced to lay down almost flat, which made it challenging to fully feel my contractions and work with my body to move the baby down. It was uncomfortable, but I didn’t have the energy to stand up for what I wanted. My only concern was getting the baby out.
Jocelyn stood on my right side and helped me feel for contractions. Although I was unmedicated, the position I was in, combined with the adrenaline rush of delivering a baby, made it difficult to fully feel the contractions. She counted to ten calmly while I pushed. My doula stood on the right and spoke calmly and encouragingly to me, giving me sips of ice water in between pushes and putting a cold wash cloth on my forehead.
Each push was progress, but my OB encouraged me to push harder and get the baby out faster. This wasn’t what I wanted, because I knew delivering him too fast would increase my risk of tearing, and I didn’t want to force my body to do anything it wasn’t ready to do. But when my doula said she could already see the baby’s head, and that it was covered with dark hair, I knew I was so close to meeting my babe. I pushed with everything I had, and felt pressure as the baby crowned. It wasn’t exactly the “ring of fire” that people talk about, but it was definitely the most intense part. With one more push, his head was out, and relief washed over me as the OB pulled the rest of him out. Suddenly, there was a screaming, crying, tiny little baby on my stomach.
I was in a daze as I cut the umbilical cord and they whisked my baby away to be examined by a team of doctors. My midwife, who came to the birth in a supportive role, gave me a shot of oxytocin in the leg (yet another decision I had to make on the fly after the OB scared me by saying that I could possibly bleed to death without it) as I waited for my placenta to detach. After I delivered the placenta, my baby was returned to me briefly before being taken to the intensive care nursery. He stopped crying as I held him in my arms. We looked into each other’s eyes for the first time, and I knew then I was different. I was this tiny human’s mom. He loved me and needed me. I was the most important person in the world to him, despite any of the mistakes I’ve ever made in my life, despite my imperfections. None of it mattered anymore. I was his, and he was mine.
They told me he weighed 5 pounds 3 ounces, and that he didn’t need any help breathing. He was healthy. I felt so relieved to know he was OK. I knew my little guy was strong; he was a fighter.
We spent the next week and a half in the NICU while he learned how to feed and gained weight. He still hasn’t mastered nursing, but I am hopeful that with persistence, eventually something will click.
My plan from the get-go was to have a natural birth. There is nothing natural about giving birth in a hospital with an obstetrician delivering your baby, but I was at least able to stick to my wish to forego an epidural and have a medication-free birth. I believe this played a role in my babe entering the world so alertly and with no complications or interventions.
As grateful as I am to the staff at the Owen Sound hospital and for the skill of the obstetrician who delivered my son, I can’t help but feel like the medical system needs a tune-up when it comes to birth.
Unfortunately, with the circumstances surrounding my birth (my water breaking early and a “fast” labour), I had to make some decisions on the fly that I was not prepared to make. Generally, I like to research important decisions, but in this case, I was presented with some options that I did not have time to look into. For example, even though I tested negative for Group B strep and had just finished two rounds of antibiotics, the OB present at my sons birth insisted that the risk of infection to him was high, and that he should receive antibiotics following birth. When I asked for a statistic, he couldn’t give me one, and just kept repeating, “very high”. I had just given birth and did not have the confidence or the clear head to make such a decision. I had to quickly weigh the pros and cons. Since I had already destroyed my own intestinal flora with my antibiotic treatments, I decided it would do more good than harm to give him the antibiotics. Looking back, I don’t know if I would have made the same decision if I’d had time to research the actual risks of infection to a premature baby. But I was scared and felt pressure to go with the conventional recommendation from a doctor I had no relationship with.
Another decision I was scared into was getting an oxytocin injection after birth. I wanted to wait and see if my bleeding would stop on its own, but the OB once again scared me by telling me about a woman who had almost bled to death after refusing oxytocin. So I caved and got the shot.
Finally, after making preparations to have my placenta encapsulated, they refused to let me take it. Yep, that’s right, they denied my access to MY OWN ORGAN. Obviously the medical staff were biased against placenta encapsulation, because even with a release of liability form and offering to let them cut off a piece to send to pathology, they refused. This was the most frustrating part of my hospital birth. The OB later returned to tell me all the reasons why I shouldn’t ingest my placenta instead of respecting my right, as an adult with free will, to make my own decisions regarding my health. Regardless of what anyone thinks about placenta encapsulation, I should have the right to make my own choices about my own body. Medical professionals need to adjust accordingly.
Despite almost nothing going the way I’d hoped, the birth of Kieran was an incredible experience I would never take back. Giving birth to him was the most empowering thing I’ve ever done. It was so powerful to have such a supportive community of women in the room with me, including my mum, my doula, my midwife, and my nurse, Jocelyn. There were lots of people in the room, but we maintained a calm, supportive atmosphere just like I wanted. I feel like a total badass that I made it to 9cm dilated without complaining of pain, and that I went through the whole thing fully alert and without pain medication. Since I could feel every push, I was in control, and my recovery was fast — I was walking around within a couple hours of delivery, and I felt back to normal within a few days. I fully believe that my mindset around labour and birth helped me accomplish this, as I always approached natural birth as something that was not only possible, but positive. I repeated positive birth affirmations daily, and did lots of reading to prepare myself for a natural childbirth. I’m happy that, in the end, my wish for a natural birth free of interventions came true.